A church choir, stained glass windows, and an altar decorated the background of one of the most daring spectacles in TV history. During the Grammy performance of “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lampert, Queen Latifah officiated thirty-three weddings, many of which were for same-sex couples. The religious message was loud and clear: this is how church should be.
Madonna’s appearance for the post-ceremony entertainment was no surprise. Her music is notoriously infused with her religious ideals: diversity, openness, and sensuality (think the “Like a Prayer” music video in which she makes love in a church and dances in front of burning crosses). For years the entertainment industry has told audiences how entertainment, comedy, and love should look, and now it has portrayed the model of the modern, accepting, and loving church.
The lyrics of “Same Love” and the religious symbolism of the performance audibly made the point that Christians have no business voicing how others’ relationships should look. And yet, the performers had no problem telling Christians how to style a church. “Be like us,” sang the chorus, “celebrate the love.”
Christians should not miss this chance to explain how the church should be.
Sadly, many have spoiled this opportunity by voicing cheap recriminations, gripes of the victimized, or uncharitable rants. Others received what the event represents with a smug denial that their beliefs about the family are growing quickly unpopular. This is not the first time that cultural forces have pressed Christians to compromise what they believe and how they live. The Romans pressured the early church to worship Caesar as god, Enlightenment elites like Voltaire and Jefferson urged Christians to jettison the supernatural, and today the entertainment industry challenges us to sacrifice beliefs about the family that were written in a book 2,000 years ago.
Throughout the ages, the church exists to represent something different from what the surrounding culture stands for.
Macklemore’s song states that “underneath it’s all the same love.” But Christ calls His followers to know and practice a different love—the same love that He exemplified for us. The Bible tells us that apart from God, our notions of love are warped and selfish. Until we submit our will and love Him as our supreme good, our desires are contrary to what God has determined is right and beautiful. This is why Jesus tells us to imitate His love rather than the world’s: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).
In devoting our lives to Christ, we have committed ourselves to conforming our understanding of love to God’s standards of love. William Ames, a theologian in the early 1600s, explains that love is an “affection by which we approve of all that is in God,” and it’s expressed in “keeping and fulfilling of all the commandments of God.” Christians obey God’s commandments because it’s how we express our love to Him: “whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2:5). We keep his word in the things that the culture generally accepts—like the virtues of patience and kindness—as well as the things it doesn’t accept, like our understanding of marriage.
Christians then are to love homosexuals in a way different from the way many in our culture want us to. We love our homosexual neighbor the way God desires us to, not Hollywood. What does this look like?
It looks a lot like the way Jesus loved. God is not pleased when Christians resort to locker room humor, self-righteous elitism, or aggressive animosity when addressing homosexuality. Many Christians think they’re representing God by expressing disgust at their culture, or by plugging our ears and separating from it. Christ modeled a different way. He loved those who society marginalized. He didn’t celebrate the actions of the adulterers, thieves, and tax collectors; rather he loved them for who they were as made in the image of God. He called them to know God’s transforming love and forgiveness.
The church is the place where people gather to celebrate the love of God, a love that is different from and higher than us, a love that commands our actions, guides our lives, and provides a model for our relationships. Herman Bavinck, a Dutch theologian, wrote, “God is the Creator of the human being, and simultaneously also the Inaugurator of sex and of sexual difference . . . it is a revelation of God’s will and sovereignty, and is therefore wise and holy and good.” We believe that the Creator knows love better than we do, and better than the entertainment industry. Is the church supposed to compromise this love?