The dust won’t settle for a long time following the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage – and I believe God has given us an incredible opportunity. Let me explain.
But first, two unrelated observations about the ruling.
- No Surprise: The Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage was rendered inevitable over 40 years ago as the critical mass of social reasoning shifted away from moral standards to individual choice. Most social programs are following along in the wake of that moral shift and are just now catching up (see my post below). There will be more decisions along this social and moral arc.
- Global Context: Same-sex marriage is legal in some 20 countries, all of them with a Christian and post-Christian religious framework. Same-sex marriage is prohibited in most of the non-Christian world in countries dominated by Islam, Eastern religions, fascism, and communism (and its remnants).
But the most important dimension of the ruling is how Christians respond.
- Christian Response: Many leaders have published statements expressing their adherence to the traditional view of marriage in opposition to the decision.
But is a “biblical response” merely listing Bible verses and a conclusion as to how they apply? That’s a start; but for too many that where it ends, too. We Christians are addicted to the idea that just because we say something we’ve actually done something.
A popular mantra coming from Christian leaders is to say to supporters of same-sex marriage, “You are wrong but we love you.”
I understand the point being made, but I cannot think of any ongoing relationship that began with someone saying to me, “You’re wrong.” I cannot even remember a second conversation with anyone that started that way.
But do we really mean it when we add, “I love you?”
Seeing the Issue; Ignoring the Person
As followers of Christ, we cannot be distracted from our primary role as his ambassadors. The evangelical church has been caught up in social battles and culture wars for so long we have forgotten how to live lives dripping with the fruit of the spirit; lives that commend the truth of Christ’s Good News to a world desperate for hope, joy, forgiveness and redemption. We have bought into the values of a sex-obsessed society and lost sight of our own failures.
“If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasure of power, and hatred….a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.” ~C. S. Lewis
Are Christians going to complain, condemn and further tighten the circle, or start providing opportunities and ministries to change the conversation? It can no longer be business as usual. God is giving us an incredible opportunity that is unprecedented in our life time.
A biblical response?
A magazine listed four common complaints from nonchristians about Christians:
- You don’t listen to me
- You judge me
- Your faith confuses me
- You talk about what’s wrong instead of making it right
One writer adds: “Christians fail to communicate to others because we ignore basic principles in relationships. When we make condescending judgments, or proclaim lofty words that don’t translate into action, or simply speak without first listening, we fail to love – and thus deter a thirsty world from the Living Water.”
We look in vain for New Testament strategies outlining large-scale political and social movements to address moral issues in culture. Maybe we should realize that a biblical response is really a Christ-centered response. Maybe we should engage as Christ showed us.
If we really love them, we will go out of our way to engage, listen and know them.
So, what is a Christ-centered response?
Jesus said that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). Jesus waded into the crowds, looking them in the eye; talking, touching, weeping with them and for them. And it wasn’t just the hale and hardy religious types. It was anyone who was in front of him. We see him in action with people identified as immoral, prostitutes, adulterers, and swindlers. To the Samaritan woman at the well, he asks for a drink of water and then promises her eternal life. To the woman caught in the act of adultery, he offers forgiveness. To the swindler Zacchaeus, he invites himself over for lunch. After the meal, Zacchaeus makes restitution (and then some) to everyone he defrauded.
We don’t know all the details of the conversations, but what is recorded is how Jesus reached out, accepted and loved them. He didn’t need to say, “You are wrong.” He pointed them to forgiveness and hope. The Samaritan woman was stunned by how Jesus treated her. Jews would never talk with a Samaritan, let alone a woman. And then he matter-of-factly let on that he knew she had been living with a man not her husband (probably not her first time). She was overwhelmed. Here he was offering not only to drink from her cup but to give her eternal life . . . even when he knew everything about her! (John 4: 1-42).
Time to be Different
So, the world awaits our Christ-centered response. The time has come to take the initiative and engage. Like Jesus, love is never passive. It gives, it acts, it cares, it reaches out. Love has no agenda; only a vision. So let’s not merely post our responses and throw around the word “love” and think it gets us off the hook. If the love is real, you are hooked. And it is awesome because you know what it’s like to be loved and accepted and forgiven so you can’t help but share it.
We may say, “We love you;” but that doesn’t mean that we wait around for them to come to us on our terms. We go to them. Let’s invite leaders of the gay community to sit and talk. Let’s communicate our concerns and solicit their help in the possible erosion of religious liberty. Let’s be preemptive with our love. Let’s develop relationships where we honestly engage the personal, social and spiritual aspects of what it means to be broken sinners in a broken world. We can speak the truth with genuine love.
Some conversations will be difficult and emotional. Most of them will carry on for weeks, months, years. That’s what love does.
When you do this, there will be certain kinds of professing Christians who will criticize you and accuse you of compromise and even heresy. Their time has long passed. If we try to appease that group we will serve the rest of our lives in impotent obscurity.
In a culture that is rapidly becoming formless and void, Christ can use us to create incredible light. And it will be good.
“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12).