Surprise?

Am I the only one that is not shocked by President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage today?  Is there really anything more to be said about this?  I doubt it.  I am amazed only at how quickly this cultural transformation has been accomplished.  

I have no doubt there will be plenty of hand-wringing and frustration in many congregations this week, congregations that affirm (as does ours) the God-defined nature of marriage as opposed to the definition of marriage as an institution of convenience or personal expression that our culture is rapidly embracing.  It is understandable to be aghast and frustrated.  But I think many congregations will be inclined towards the wrong response.   We need to respond in ways that give witness to our hope and faith.  These are not necessarily easy or fun responses.  Heck, forget that.  these are very difficult and unpleasant responses.  They fly against our human nature.  But they are (as near as I can tell), thoroughly Biblical responses.  
First off, the people who seek to change the definition of marriage are not our enemies.  They are creations of the same loving God that we seek to be obedient to.  They are mistaken (as best I can interpret Scripture).  We are all sinful, all broken, all prone to error, all constantly in need of our Lord’s forgiveness and focusing on this rather than on how right we are and how wrong they are is ultimately far more healthy for potential dialog.  This does not mean compromising the Biblical witness.  It means being conditioned by that same Biblical witness as to how we respond.  We are not called to hatred or demagoguery or belittling of these people.  We are called to pray for them, that the Holy Spirit would work in their hearts and minds (as He no doubt already is in many of them), to bring them to a fuller and more faithful understanding of the way we have been created.  
Secondly, we must be cautious to not be exploited by the political system, driven to see those who label themselves Democrat (or Republican, for that matter) as the enemy – unwelcome in our houses of worship.  There is no one party that fully and completely represents the will of God.  Many men and women of deep faith find themselves having to compromise their faith in order to vote for the platforms of either party.  I know faithful men and women who have been ridiculed and insulted by their congregations because of how they felt led to vote.  This is not God-pleasing.  It is not Biblical.  And it is not helpful.   “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)  
Is there any wonder that there is confusion?  Should we be surprised by this?  I think not.  If you’re convinced that your neighbor is in error, you need to be praying for them, not mocking them.   If we are convinced that certain platform stances of one party are contrary to the will of God, we ought to ensure that we aren’t standing – either actively or through ignorance – on some rotten planks of our own.  
Thirdly, I maintain that the best response is not to funnel more and more money to lobbyists and special interest groups devoted to overturning specific legislation or fighting certain policies.  By all means vote your conscience and pray for change.  But I don’t believe that the kind of change many Christians want is going to come about by repealing this or that law or winning or defending a certain referendum or other.  ALL, and I mean ALL of these victories will be temporary at best.
What Christians as individuals and congregations need to focus on is sharing the Gospel with the people around them.  Responding in love rather than vitriol.  Responding in humility rather than arrogance.  If we can share the Gospel with our world in this manner, it won’t matter what the laws say.  If we think we’re somehow going to successfully defend our congregations and moral codes and religious beliefs through the laws, we’re grossly mistaken.  Vote and be vocal, but if you aren’t spending more of your time praying for your neighbors and seeking to share the Gospel with them, your votes are going to turn out worthless.  Maybe not today.  Maybe not next week (though at this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was next week!).  But eventually.
In making this shift of emphasis, we are reminded of one very important thing.  We do not evangelize in order to change public policy or law.  We evangelize because we want as many people as possible to receive the gift of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit so that they will spend eternity in the presence of their Savior, Jesus Christ.  Our faith is not a means to some other end.  It is the end.  There is no shortage of people happy to exploit the faith for their personal and professional gain, whether they call themselves a televangelist or a politician (or any number of other professions, by all means).  We are not to make the same error – either intentionally or accidentally.
Marriage can be legally redefined, and I believe it will be.  This does not affect the faithfulness of Christians across this country and around the world.  Our congregations may come under direct assault legally for insisting on retaining the freedom to contradict the prevailing cultural preferences, and I believe they will.  We may even see in our lifetimes great reversals in the religious freedoms that we have enjoyed as Americans for over two centuries.  As Christians, all this changes is the convenience with which we worship our God.  The battle of faith is not won or lost on whether marriage is defended or abortion is overturned.  Christians continue to witness and share and the Holy Spirit still leads people to faith in the most hostile and adverse climates imaginable.  
It’s more convenient to have your culture agree with your faith.  It’s more convenient to have your culture not only accommodate your faith but encourage it.  It’s more convenient to assume that everyone around you basically thinks and believes the same way you do.  
None of these things were true at the birth of the Church 2000 years ago – a birth we will celebrate in just a few weeks on Pentecost Sunday.  The incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God did not wait until culture was receptive to these things.  He came in the midst of great hostility – both from people who worshiped God and from the far greater number of people who did not.  The Holy Spirit launched the public ministry of the Church in signs and wonders in the midst of cultural attack, in the midst of the arrests of church leaders and their martyrdom.  The Church did not rely on friendly laws to survive.  We are mistaken if we think it needs it now.  
We need to give thanks for two centuries of religious freedom and liberty unparalleled in all of human history.  Religious freedom not only for Christians, but for people of all religious backgrounds.  We should give thanks for that.  We should defend it to the best of our ability utilizing our Constitutional rights.  We can lament the shifting sands of culture that have finally made such liberties more and more difficult.  But we shouldn’t be surprised, and we shouldn’t assume that we’re going to change anything with mere laws.  
As long as we continue to think in these ways, we perpetuate an image of combativeness that is inaccurate with who we have been made into.  The battle is over.  It was over 2000 years ago on a bloody cross and in an empty tomb.  Our job is to spread the news about the victory, not to be distracted into an unending series of mock battles that ultimately sideline us from sharing the Gospel.
He is risen.  He is risen indeed!  And you know someone who needs to know that!  Pray for the opportunity to share this good news in love and that they will receive it in faith.  That’s ultimately all that matters, regardless of what is legal or illegal.

6 Responses to “Surprise?”

  1. Carl Henning Says:

    Why does everyone get so hung up on homosexuality while letting other, more common sins go unremarked. In Scripture homosexuality is almost always condemned in the same breath as adultery, for example. And Jesus’ definition of adultery does not even require the physical act. Little by little sins are being redefined as not-sins. Homosexuality is joining adultery, fornication, and so many others as not-sins in America. How long will it be before Christians in America feel like Christians in ancient Rome or modern China?

  2. Lois Says:

    This is excellent! I have such a hard time finding that “quiet place” in discussions with my more evangelical-leaning friends or my more (extremely) liberal family members & friends. It’s always been hard for me to NOT argue about things I hold strong opinions on. I feel like I’m learning, though.

  3. Doug Vossler Says:

    The percentage of Americans supporting gay marriage is going to rise at an even faster rate in the future. A recent Gallup poll showed that while only 39% of people age 55 and older were in support, the percentage for those in the age range of 18 – 34 was 70%. Clearly what has been taught in public classrooms for the last 30 years is having a major impact.

  4. Paul Nelson Says:

    I suppose that homosexuality gets more ink and ire for several reasons.  

    Sexuality has always been a hang-up in America, thanks in part to our religious roots.  Nathaniel Hawthorne wasn’t necessarily exaggerating in “The Scarlet Letter” about the stigma of sexual sin among some of our earliest founders.  Of course, at that time I think that sin in general was taken more seriously across the board, but sexual sin probably still stands out as one of the most important varieties because of its devastating impact on the individuals involved, families, and society of which they are a part.

    What the Christian (Protestant) church in America really lacks is a cohesive approach to sexuality and human life issues.  Our Catholic brethren have a distinct – if unpopular – advantage here in that their theology treats the various issues of sexuality and gender and human life not as distinct issues but pieces of a larger puzzle.  They can remain steadfast against homosexuality in part because they remain steadfast against the commodification of heterosexuality via birth control and other technologies.  Any time sex is taken out of the Biblically-appointed place of heterosexual marriage, there are problems and complications.  Protestants think they can have their cake and eat it to – sex can be commodified into a leisure activity, yet homosexuality cannot.  Inconsistent, to say the least!

    I’d say we’re well on our way towards a truly post-Christian, secular culture (not just society) in America.  While I pray that we won’t reach the level of being marched off to prison or execution for our faith, it’s clear that we’re already in shock from the attacks being made on longstanding issues such as tax breaks for churches and the ability to circumvent certain legislation through First Amendment religious freedom protections.  These things are going to be stripped away sooner rather than later, and everyone needs to come to grips with that.  We may not like it- we aren’t required to.  But it doesn’t change the Church’s mission in our culture.  We’re not here to preserve our way of life.  We’re here to spread the Word about the true nature of life!

  5. Paul Nelson Says:

    Most definitely.  It’s a cycle that works quite effectively.  If someone can control what is taught in school, what is allowed in school, what is discouraged actively or passively in school, someone has a great deal of influence over the way young people will think about issues in the future.  While it might have seemed innocuous to be teaching tolerance on Sesame Street and in the classrooms, we’re seeing what the ultimate end of that indoctrination is.  

    I maintain that tolerance of your neighbor is a terrible substitute for love for your neighbor.  But it’s certainly more politically expedient – particularly if you would rather not love your neighbor.  

  6. Paul Nelson Says:

    Terribly difficult, but tremendously important!  If we expect everyone to agree with us before we’ll share the Gospel with them, we need to really study the New Testament more!

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