Same-Sex Marriage and How Offended Christians Should Be

It’s been over a month since President Obama publicly announced his support of same-sex marriage, so I’m probably now the last Christian blogger on the planet to address the issue.  I guess I wanted to see what kind of  societal reaction and critical reaction there would be first.

On what I believe is a somewhat related note, the Pew Research Center released a study in the past month which stated that in the past 5 years, amongst Americans 30 and under (commonly referred to as “millenials”) there has been a 15% drop in those who “never doubt the existence of God”.  For as long as this data has been gathered, there has never been a drop of more than 2% over a 5 year span.  In other words, there is something major going on in American culture today that is causing young adults to not buy the “idea of God” in the same way that they have for the majority of the history of our country (and history of mankind for that matter).

So what is it?

Before we move on, let me cite one more piece of research.  David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, published a very influential book in 2007 called Unchristian, which sought to get at the heart of what young people in America today currently think about Christianity.  The basic assessment Kinnaman presented was that young people in our country today find Christians and their churches, the supposed personal and organizational embodiment’s of Christian doctrine, to be, for the most part, hypocritical, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and overly and unfairly judgmental.

Now, if we put all of this information together, I think we find a tempered way to approach the same-sex marriage issue.

How Conservative Christians Generally React

As we consider how we should react to the issue of same-sex marriage, we probably need to consider how we generally react to it.  Now, I don’t want to make an unfair generalization here, so I understand that not every conservative Christian will fall into this category, but here’s how I still see the treatment of the issue usually play out for most conservative Christians:

1) They Try to State What the Bible States: This is actually a good place to start.  Without fail, conservative Christians will have a high view of the authority of Scripture and therefore will attempt, as best they can, to use the Bible to support their views on homosexuality.

However, playing on the growing biblical illiteracy of our country, many modern writers have touted that “the Bible really has very little to say about homosexuality”.  That’s simply not true at all.  I’m not going to cite them all here, but the Bible presents Rom. 1, 1 Cor. 6, Gen. 19, Lev. 18, Lev. 20, 1 Tim. 1, Jude 7 as direct or indirect references against homosexuality.  You also sometimes hear those who are supposedly in-the-know saying, “Well, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality!”  to which Christians who don’t know what Jesus did/did not say sort of shrug their shoulders and don’t always know what to do.

The reality is that while Jesus doesn’t spend his ministry condemning every possible sin, he certainly does reaffirm God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman in Matt. 19, quoting from the Creation Account and God’s institution of marriage (Gen. 1-2).  So……yes, start with what the Bible says about homosexuality, just make sure you know what the Bible actually says about it.

2) They state their anger, offense, and disgust regarding homosexuality:  This is where the wheels start to fall off.  Look, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t be upset about sin.  You should.  But as Kinnaman’s research points out, you should be universally disgusted by the idea of sin, not selectively disgusted by specific sins, or you will appropriately be labeled as a judgmental hypocrite.

Take Jesus’ lead on this one.  Remember, he actually ate with “sinners” and tax collectors and prostitutes – the social outcasts of society.  He was not okay with their sins, but at least they owned the fact that they were sinners, unlike the self-righteous Pharisees.

3) They use some cutesy phrase or cheesy mantra to support an antihomosexual agenda: The “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” line isn’t influencing anyone.  It never did.  Furthermore, it makes your point of view appear as though it was edited by the people at Sesame Street.  The “Adam and Steve” line isn’t going to pull anyone over to your side of the debate anymore than the corny sign at the roadside of the local nondenominational church is going to effectively pull my car into its parking lot.  In the history of this planet, I’m not sure cheesiness has ever positively swung one opinion.  Try to stay away from it at all costs, especially when it comes to your Christian witness.

What Conservative Christians Should Be Honest About

1) There are many social issues to be concerned about: Christians who are vehemently against same-sex marriage in our culture often point to the deconstruction of the family unit as a primary cause in the collapse of society.  This is a valid point that appears to have some historical precedent. They say that opening the door to same-sex marriage will destroy our nation’s concept of family, a building block that, once it crumbles, everything in a nation follows suit.

I have no doubt that same-sex marriage would further muddy the waters.  But that’s making the assumption that the “family unit” waters aren’t already to a degree fairly polluted.  Over half of American marriages end in divorce.  Well over two-thirds of American couples live together prior to marriage.  Please don’t tell me that homosexual marriage is going to destroy the family unit when the concept of family unit has been beaten senseless by heterosexual couples for the past 50 years.  And since we still have a nominal majority in our country of Christians (nearly 80%), Christians certainly need to take ownership of the damage we’ve caused.

All of this does not mean that we can’t appropriately address the issue of same-sex marriage.  In fact, to go the opposite direction and not address it at all wouldn’t be a particularly Christian response either.  But there needs to be some humility in acknowledging that Christians (and heterosexuals in general) are sinful and need Jesus’ grace and forgiveness just like everyone else.  And there also needs to be the death of crusades against sins which we ourselves don’t happen to struggle against.  In other words, sometimes the elderly lady needs to be chastised for gossiping about the young man as “a pervert.”  It’s easy to judge people in relation to the lack of temptation we face toward their particular sins.

2) Politics will not change people’s hearts, so they should be used in a limited way by Christians: Without turning this into a full study, this is a massive point for conservative Christians.  If you want to see how a Christian addresses politics, look at Jesus as some try to get him to fall into a political trap with a question about taxes (Matt. 22; Mark 12; Luke 20).  Even better, look at Jesus’ response as he’s questioned by political leadership (John 18).  It’s brilliant.  Even as Jesus yells at Peter to “Put your sword away!” (John 18:11) at his arrest, you hear a subtle rebuke against using “the sword” (a term used in the Bible to refer to political power) to further your Christian agendas.

The gospel alone can change people’s hearts in a God-pleasing way.  So, while I believe that same-sex marriage could present some lasting negative consequences for our society, I don’t see that legislating against it is going to make a more God-pleasing society.  Only when acts are done in faith to God are they truly God-pleasing (Heb. 11:6), and legislation cannot and will not create faith.  So let’s stop pretending that laws or politicians can do what only the gospel of Jesus Christ can.

Christians are not to be apolitical.  They’re also not supposed to be disproportionately political.  The gospel moves us to something different, something better.

Where Conservative Christians Could Be

Wouldn’t it be great if every Christian could witness to the truth in love like Jesus did?  Obviously we don’t.  And finally, this is part of the reason why Jesus allows nails hammered by sins of politics, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy to be driven through his perfect, guiltless hands.  He dies for our offenses.

Dare I suggest that conservative Christians pull back from the political arena?  It’s a loaded weapon that our fingers don’t need to be on.  In fact, historically, when the Christian Church tries to run the government, bad things happen to both kingdoms (cf. the Holy Roman Empire and the lasting residual effects of how Europe today is one of the least Christian spots on the planet).

What if Christians would focus their passion and energy on loving others more than controlling others?  What type of impact would that have for Christianity in the world?  I’m not talking about a false Social Gospel, which was focused primarily on improvements for this life as an end goal.  I’m talking about redeemed eternity through Jesus drastically altering your life right now.  I’m talking about Christians like Basil, bishop of Caesarea (c. 350) and Sampson the Hospitable (c. 530) in Constantinople, for instance, who were ones often credited with inventing public hospitals – caring for people whom you didn’t even have any relational ties to.  Only someone with Jesus’ mentality would think to do such a thing!

Conclusion

Please don’t over-interpret what I’m saying here.  I’m not suggesting that Christians should be voting to support homosexual marriage or anything like that.  Rather, I’m suggesting that Christians need to strike a careful balance when it comes to not standing in judgment in a self-righteous or hypocritical way while at the same time holding firmly and unwaveringly to biblical truth.  I’m suggesting that politics isn’t going to get anyone into heaven, which means that for the Christian, it logically shouldn’t be our main instrument in addressing a moral social issue like same-sex marriage.  And I’m suggesting that if we ever want people to respect the gospel of Jesus, we need to live the gospel of Jesus.

If we culturally continue to claim to have a God but that God doesn’t directly impact our lifestyles in any significant or measurable ways, the 15% drops in those who doubt God’s existence will continue.  After all, judging by their lives, it certainly doesn’t look like God is really there.

On a grand scale, the only way for true, authentic Christianity in our country to rise is for the predominant nominal, hypocritical Christianity to die.  For years, the pursuit of “greater numbers” in churches has probably contributed to a relatively standardless Christianity that has watered down exactly what it means to be Christian.  Collectively, if we ask for forgiveness from a merciful God who loves to forgive, humble ourselves in our approach to social issues, love in such a transparent way that people see Jesus in our lives, and firmly hold to and present the gospel as the answer to a fallen world, only then will Christianity stand a chance of being here for much longer.

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Could We Sin Once We’re In?

I received a form of this great question via email again this past week so I thought it was time I address it in its own post.

Christians who are carefully thinking through how we, as the human race, got to where we are today, quite naturally arrive at this question – “Can we fall from faith entirely (i.e. or sin in general) once we get to heaven?”

The thought process runs as follows…God created spirit beings with free will.  We know from the Bible that Satan is an angel who, in his pride, rebelled against God, led many other angels astray, and was banished from God’s presence  (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Luke 10:18; and portions of Revelation are probably the clearest, while many would point to Ezek. 28 and Isa. 14 as well).  Satan then proceeded to tempt mankind away from God in the same way that he himself fell – through pride (Gen. 3). This fallen condition of mankind subsequently gets passed down from generation to generation (John 3:6; Psalm 51:5; Gen. 5:3).

The story arc of the Bible then reads as Creation – Fall – Redemption – Restoration.  The concern, however, is that if we fell once after creation, what would prevent us from falling again?  Why wouldn’t that be possible?  Don’t humans repeatedly make the same mistakes?  For the Christian who’s thinking about this carefully, their gut instinct properly suggests to them “No, that doesn’t seem right.  Heaven is heaven and there’s no turning back.”  For some, that’s enough.  But for others, who anticipate this question coming from a thoughtful child or an antagonistic skeptic, they want something more concrete.  I hope to help with that a bit here.

In short, the Bible is clear that there will be no sin in heaven (Rev. 21-22, esp. 21:4 & 22:3).  It does not, however, suggest that humans are cut off from any idea of individuality or volition.  And for reasons I’ll further explain, I think it’s okay to operate with the assumption that volition will still remain.

(please keep in mind that this question, while worth pursuing, is based largely upon speculation of that which admittedly remains a bit unknown/unknowable)

Points for consideration:

1) Volition Must Persist According to Our Human Understanding of Love

Some suggest that upon entrance into heaven, we are locked in such a way that it’d be impossible for us to choose to sin (i.e. resist God’s perfect will).  The problem with us speaking that way is that it would seem to suggest that loving obedience to God in heaven is forced and mechanical.  And so the argument goes….If you have no option NOT to love God, how could you suggest that love for God would be sincere?  Furthermore, if God desired to simply lock his people in a state of obedience, it appears it’d have made sense to do that with Adam and Eve and avoid the mess of sin.  I’d assume that step was necessary.  I’d assume that love which is locked or forced, by definition, is not true love.

(Is it possible that we, in heaven, could love without having actual volition?  I suppose it could be possible since many things could be possible in heaven.  However, that wouldn’t seem to reconcile particularly well with our current human experience of love, for the reason stated in the above paragraph.)

2) Improved Vision

I believe a better way to look at our condition in heaven is what medieval theologians referred to as the Beatific Vision.  This concept is largely based on Paul’s words to the Corinthians from 1 Cor. 13:11-12 “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  Paul is suggesting here that the way we perceive truth right now, even for the Christian, is a bit tarnished by sin.  However, once we enter heaven and see Jesus face to face, we’ll finally know true reality.  And we’ll have no desire to go back to untruth.

Consider this: say I placed a test in front of someone with a doctorate degree in Mathematics from MIT.  The test had one problem on it, 2+2.  What are the odds that this individual would get the problem incorrect?  He/she wouldn’t.  You’d say it was impossible.  With the information they have regarding the truths of math in their head, it’s not just that it’s unlikely.  If they saw the question clearly, they would not get it wrong.  Now, the truth is, there was a time in their life when they did not know the answer to that question.  When they were one year old, they may have failed this test.  And the difference between them at that age and now, the difference that allows them to pass the test, is……a greater understanding of truth regarding mathematics.

Now, apply that logic to when we behold Jesus face to face in heaven.  He is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).  Our ability to grasp truth is directly proportional to the clarity with which we see Jesus.  When we see Jesus clearly, now without our sinful nature, we won’t want sin anymore than the MIT-level mathematician will want to put the number 5 down as the answer to 2+2.  It just won’t make any sense to us.

3) The initial Fall lacked experiential knowledge of what the Fall would be like

“So,” you say, “that’s great that we’ll see more clearly in heaven.  But couldn’t the devil see clearly before his fall?  Couldn’t Adam and Eve see clearly before their fall?”

The question about the devil is a little more difficult to answer in that he seemingly had no shot at redemption.  All we can say is that God deemed his time for choice of relationship with God or apart from God over (similar to our human “time of grace” on earth).  God’s track record of mercy and deliverance leads us to give him the benefit of the doubt on his judgment upon Satan.

When it comes to Adam and Eve though, it’s a slightly different situation.  Upon discovering what sin was, don’t you think they would have wished that they could go back to life without sin?  Of course!  But the problem was they’d already contracted the sickness.  They couldn’t undo the sinful condition.  In heaven, the old sinful condition we have will be gone, yet as far as I can tell, we’ll still possess the knowledge of how we’d never want to go back to a life of sin. (Again, think of the mathematician who’d have no desire to go back to the stupidity of 2+2=5.)  So, in heaven, believers will once again be without a sinful nature, like in the Garden of Eden, with free will, like in the Garden of Eden, but now possessing experiential knowledge of the foolishness of life apart from God, UNlike the Garden of Eden.  Make sense?

Conclusion

It seems like it’d be easier if God just gave us a verse in the Bible that said, “Once you get to heaven, you won’t sin and here’s why…..”  But God, in his infinite wisdom, deemed that verse unnecessary.

I wanted to be careful here to not contort Scripture to say something it doesn’t, but at the same time, demonstrate that the idea that believers cannot fall from faith in heaven is not illogical, as some may espouse.  I hope these thoughts helped.

NOTE: to avoid the theological and philosophical baggage that comes along with the term “free will,” I’ve removed any usages from what I’d originally posted.  In the Luther “Bondage of the Will” thought, man, in a sense, truly has no “free” will in that he’s either hell bent on carrying out sin or, by God’s Spirit living in him, he is carrying out the Lord’s will.  But neither of those is by open choice.  I, however, was using the term in the post-conversion, new man/old man tension sense.   So, for instance…..as a result of God’s grace, we are able to agree with the statement of Paul in 1 Cor. 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  By the power of God’s Spirit, I am able/should every day make godly decisions out of loving obedience for my Lord.

I’m speculating in the above article that the difference from “posse non peccare” (“able not to sin” – i.e. the state Adam and Eve were created in) to “non posse peccare” (“not able to sin” – i.e. the state we will experience in heaven) is based at least somewhat on the experiential knowledge of sin that all redeemed children of God will have undoubtedly had once they reach heaven.  In other words, now that we’ve tasted how bad sin is, and when we no longer have a sinful nature in heaven and can see the truth and beauty that exists in Jesus, we will have no possible desire to return to sin.