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!
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.