Life in Babylon. Love for Babylon. And a few more thoughts a week after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

(image credit to wilx.com)

(image credit to wilx.com)

I’m starting to think that many, myself included, are perhaps getting a little exhausted with the dialogue concerning the SCOTUS marriage decision. Maybe it’s because same-sex marriage has already been a reality in my state for several years. Maybe it’s because I’m well aware of my generation’s overwhelmingly supportive opinions about same-sex marriage. By the way, some of that support is, in fact, because many young adults feel romantic relationships between same-gendered persons are perfectly legitimate. On the other hand,  some of that support is because many young adults, while they don’t agree morally with same-gendered relationships, also don’t believe it’s morally appropriate that homosexuals should be denied other rights/privileges merely based on sexual orientation.

Practically, it makes little difference, because Millennials are set to become the nation’s largest generation soon, which seemingly would suggest that same-sex marriage is the new norm for the foreseeable future. While the footnotes of our country’s history may remember Friday as a historic date, the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t actually move the idealogical needle all too much. It merely publicly declared what we, as a nation, already believed.

Human sexuality is a major issue, and needs to regularly be addressed, so I do so once or twice a year. But, in recent years, I’ve already given my personal thoughts on what I believe the dynamic between Christians and same-sex relationships and the government needs to be here, and here, and to a lesser degree, here. So, I want to change the focus a little this week.

I get the impression that what the Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage ruling did, as much as anything, was shock some Christians into the realization that America is not their home. We’ve had hints in this direction since WWII, but I think for the first time on Friday, American WASPs started to feel like a minority. That’s not at all a bad thing. Generally speaking, wasps are awful. Furthermore, Christians who hold to the Bible as inspired, inerrant revelation from God, while a minority now, shouldn’t feel too sorry for themselves, because they aren’t the only minority here. In fact, our nation, as perhaps evidenced by the marginal 5-4 Court ruling, is basically non-majority. We live in a highly fragmented civilization, where it’s almost as though majority opinions – about religion, morality, worldview, etc., are nonexistent. Almost every idea is coming from a relative minority viewpoint.

What the Supreme Court ruling also is doing, however, is forcing us to reevaluate how we, as Christians, engage a post-Christian society. So, today I’d simply propose that the two false avenues to go down would be to 1) avoid and condemn the culture completely, or 2) over-assimilate to the culture.

Perhaps the most helpful biblical text on the matter is what God says to the Israelites through the prophet Jeremiah.

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:7-9)

After being conquered by Babylon, many of God’s people, the Israelites, had been carried away into exile in Babylon. Much like ours, Babylon was a fairly fragmented society.

The Babylonians were sharp. In the ancient world, after you defeated a nation in battle, there were basically three options of what you might do with them. First, you could drive them out of the land. Often, after regrouping, the defeated party would later storm back more hostile than before. Second, you could subjugate the defeated nation as slaves. While the cheap labor sounded nice, nations figured out quickly that afflicted, humiliated people groups often find resilience in their common cause to overthrow oppression. The third option, which the Babylonians preferred, was that of separation and assimilation. In this case, the defeated nation was divided, and the best and brightest were often actually educated in the mother nation’s ways and given opportunity for a good life, so long as they assimilated on major cultural issues.

Under the Babylonian’s rule, the only time you’d potentially face genuine hardship is if you refused to play ball. This is precisely what we see, for instance, in the case of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, i.e. The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace (Dan. 3) and in the case of  Daniel himself, i.e. In the Lion’s Den (Dan. 6). A refusal to assimilate meant opposition from the state. Nonetheless, Daniel and his friends held their ground because they considered the fires and lions of hell much more dangerous than those of earth. Stated differently, the thought of offending and thus being separated from their gracious LORD was much more horrible than the thought of offending and being separated from sinful man.

So, for the Israelite believers in exile, one option was to fully assimilate and break their faith in God. Another option was to stand their ground on issues of faith and potentially face persecution.

A third option was to rally together in their own little group, avoid Babylonian culture and people at all cost, and hope and pray that God would soon rain down judgment on this wicked, sinful people. A number of Israel’s false prophets, like Hananiah, were encouraging this sort of self-righteous tribalism (Jer. 28).

Again, the Israelites naturally thought they had two options – compromise their faith and selfishly take as much as they could from the city OR selfishly avoid sharing their faith (and their God) and eschew the city and culture entirely. But God intervenes with a thought that doesn’t come to us naturally, a third option that comes to us only through his Spirit – “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” (Jer. 29:7)

The Israelite exiles were supposed to love Babylon as they functioned as salt and light for Babylon.

How does this all apply to same-sex marriage?

Let’s remember what the gospel is.

Michel Foucault was a French philosopher and perhaps the most commonly cited social theorist of the postmodern era. Speaking about identity, Foucault believed that we all have some factor that makes us feel good about ourselves. We tend to build our identity on this factor. The inevitable problem, however, is that we begin to despise the people who don’t have that same factor. We treat them as inferior. Furthermore, we also tend to be intimidated by those who appear to have that factor to a greater degree than we do. We feel excluded by those who seem superior. So, for instance, if you find your identity in your personal beauty, your intelligence, your wealth, your personality, your moral performance, etc., you will always find reason to hate those beneath you AND those above you. In other words, Foucault is suggesting that the way we humans naturally go about forming our identities invariably causes humanity to wrestle with issues of inferiority and superiority, abuse and oppression, me against you.

Is there another option?

What if your identity is cemented in a changeless fact that exists outside of you – like the fact that you are a redeemed child of God? And what if that reality was equally available to everyone? How does that status – that of a child of God – come about? Through the grace of Jesus Christ. The gospel says that when I was not doing a single thing right, not thinking a single thing right, fully selfish and headed for destruction, Jesus loved me enough to die for me. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

If that’s the foundation of my identity and the hope for my life, how might it change the way I look at a nation that is filled with people who think the wrong things, do the wrong things, a nation of people who are headed for destruction just like I was?

Jesus loved me, he died on the cross for me, even though I differed greatly with him. And if I realize that this is what liberated me, such grace now empowers me to also love others, even die for others, who differ with me.

Because of what Jesus did for me, I’m not afraid to die. And only when you’re not afraid to die will you be courageous enough to stand for truth AND selfless enough to serve in love.

In practice…

What will this truth & love dynamic look like in your life moving forward?

It’s easier to say what it can’t look like.

As a Christian, you can’t just assimilate to Babylon. In the context of the Supreme Court’s ruling, you simply cannot be a Christian and pretend that God’s clearly revealed will for human sexuality does not exist. I am yet to meet the Bible interpreter who believes BOTH that the Bible is fully the inspired Word of God AND that God is supportive of a homosexual lifestyle. I know some people who call themselves Christians and think that God’s will for human sexuality has perhaps changed over the years or that the Bible’s stance on homosexuality is nebulous, but these people unequivocally do NOT consider the Bible to fully be the inspired Word of God. The person who has 1) seriously studied the Bible, 2) believes it’s fully inspired, and 3) draws the conclusion that God is supportive of a homosexual lifestyle would be like the unicorn of biblical interpretation. This stance would be so self-evidently illogical, that no one holds it. Point is, if you’re actually a Christian who has read your Bible and believes that it’s inspired, you absolutely can’t approach the same-sex issue the way the majority of your peers in America now do.

On the other hand, as a Christian, you can’t just avoid Babylon. In the context of the Supreme Court’s decision, you simply cannot be a Christian and ignore Jesus’ statements about believers functioning as the salt (an integrated, flavor-inducing preservative) and light (a more beautiful option pointing towards truth) of the earth (Matt. 5:13-16). God said to the Israelites “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (Jer. 29:5) You can’t do that from a distance. You’ve got to get in there and show costly, sacrificial love.

So how do you show this community-transforming truth & love? Sounds daunting. Carrying out the will of God is always an enormous goal. Goals are intimidating. I just read a great piece on productivity that encouraged focusing on sound systems rather than overwhelming goals. For a Christian, the goal of being the salt of the earth and light of the world comes only from the system of having your heart broken and fixed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

G.K. Beale’s thesis in We Become What We Worship is that we all develop the qualities of the person/thing from which we find our greatest hope in life. Well, what if Jesus was not only what we say we put our hope in, but he actually is where we find our hope?

Jesus was so filled with truth that he’d rather die than compromise a word of his Father’s will. Jesus was so filled with love that he’d rather die for those who were killing him than let them see harm. Focus your life on that guy, you’ll become more like that guy, and I guarantee you’ll figure out how to apply truth and love in whatever your context.

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3 thoughts on “Life in Babylon. Love for Babylon. And a few more thoughts a week after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

  1. Jen Born says:

    As soon as I found out about the Supreme Court ruling from Craig [I don’t read or listen to the news and I’m off Facebook now too…I probably need to seek counceling on the above ;)], I said to him, “I can’t wait to read what James writes about this!” 🙂 And you never disappoint my friend! You have said everything that a christian needs to hear…and I even thought of those same bible verses thinking about what I, as a christian should do. Bothers and Sisters in Christ, God is still in control! Don’t ever forget.
    Craig asked me what I was going to do…and you know me James, I fight, I get mad, which ends up hurting more than showing Love from Christ. But this time, as I thought harder about what God’s word says to me, I am going to…”Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

  2. Diana Kerr says:

    Everyone’s talking about this topic and coming at it from a million different angles, but I love your approach. Made a note of the Jeremiah 29:5 verse so I can use it in a blog post of my own someday. Thanks for taking the time to put together these great thoughts!

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