Most days, I’m glad you can’t see the discussions that go on between Christ and Pop Culture‘s writers. They tend to consist of teasing, arguing, teasing, complaining about life and culture in general, teasing, countless inside jokes, and the occasional substantial conversation. It can be a little overwhelming. When I come home from work (where the ongoing conversation is unavailable to me), I often have to set aside over half an hour just to catch up on the flow of conversation from the day… and then I can start contributing.
But I do wish there was a good way to show you the time, care, thought, and flat-out work that we put into parsing difficult moral issues. Our writers have excellent minds and come from very different places spiritually, theologically, and geographically. Forging some sort of agreement — or at least a peaceful “agree to disagree” mentality — takes a lot of patience, humility, and willingness to see each other in a positive light despite our different perspectives.
Which brings us to President Obama’s recent statement in support of gay marriage. Gay marriage is a complex issue that has provoked all sorts of debate, and I think it’s good for you to know that it was no different for our writers. Our forum was jam-packed with discussion, disagreement, debate, and some frustration. But we did the work for the same reason that we always do the work: we want to walk in both the sacred and secular worlds without compromise and without compartmentalizing. We want to speak and think as Christ would have us speak and think, and we want to be proud of the efforts we make with the resources God has given us while He tarries.
So then, I’d like to recommend what I believe are the underlying qualities of a healthy Christian perspective on gay marriage.
1. We are all to be ambassadors of the Gospel.
Each life is different, and God’s desires for an individual vary from person to person. But every person redeemed by Christ’s blood is called to proclaim that redemption in their life. For some this means massive evangelistic crusades, and for others this means living quietly and working with their hands. But for all Christians it means presenting ourselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom. 12:1)
2. We are each personally responsible for how we practice secular citizenship, but in most things Scripture does not specifically tell us how to carry that out.
When new situations present themselves amid the complexity of modern life, our habit is to resort to whatever is convenient. The restaurant has too many options, so we get the same thing we got last time. Downtown parking is a madhouse on the night of the concert, so we find the first spot we can, fork over $15, and walk the rest of the way. We are against sinning, so when a political lobby defined by something we consider a sin wants something, we feel like we have to deny them everything they ask for.
Here’s the problem: though Scripture is very clear about describing sin and why God hates sin, the Bible does not encourage us to boil Scripture down to a few rules of thumb so that we don’t have to think hard about our choices. Instead it gives us this sort of instruction: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
In other words, we are neither to conform when the world tells us what morality is, nor are we to assume the answer is obvious in every circumstance. Instead, we are to practice discernment with an eye toward honoring God as best we can.
Secular citizenship is particularly difficult because life as a nation or community requires avoiding the natural desire to make everyone look like ourselves. And yet it also requires that we contribute to civic life to build our common health. For the Christian, the challenge is to constantly think, test, and exercise discernment about how that plays itself out in the way you vote or make other contributions to the public square.
3. The practice of homosexuality is universally described in Scripture as antithetical to God’s intent, and as such is sin.
It does. It says that those who practice homosexuality are separated from the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). It says that it is a giving up of the natural relations God ordained, that it flows from a heart darkened by sin, and that it is a failure to acknowledge God (Rom. 1:21-28). It calls homosexuality an abomination comparable to adultery and idolatry (Lev. 18:22). There is no lack of clarity on this point.
Christians should communicate love, care, and acceptance at all times, but where we too often go off the rails is in declaring the practice of homosexuality a natural and morally neutral event in God’s eyes. It is not. Real Christian love doesn’t back down from this truth.
4. Our stance toward those separated from God by any sin must always have the loving goal of drawing their hearts toward reconciliation through Christ.
Certainty can be a heady thing; our arguments are ten times more vociferous and forceful when we just know we are right. So it’s no surprise that many Christians find comfort in thunderously proclaiming how they know that homosexuality is wrong.
The problem here is that Christians are not called to merely rail against sin. Instead, we are to use our role and station in life to help sinners see their need for Christ, and to introduce them to the Gospel’s saving nature. Yes, sometimes this does require clear and powerful statements of right and wrong, and certainly we should never sugarcoat or lie about those standards. But statements about the sinfulness of the world are meaningless if they do not also lovingly point the way toward the salvation God offers.
If you are the type who enjoys prophetic proclamation of the world’s sinfulness, take care that the justice you proclaim is also laced with love and humility. You may be right, but if the world hears the message that they suck and you have it all together, you’re doing it wrong.
If you are so “loving” that you can’t bear to tell anyone they are wrong, and you allow the world to go on living however it wants to, you may need to stiffen your backbone a bit. God will hold you accountable for your failure to act in the same way he will hold the prophets accountable for the times they failed to love.
In my own life, these four principles have played out in ways that can seem contradictory. I have established many close relationships with homosexual friends but I have never contributed money to a cause that advances the homosexual political agenda (besides buying cheeseburgers at McDonald’s). I voted for President Obama, even though I knew then that he is not a Christian in the way I would define the term, but I personally would not support governmental recognition of a homosexual civil union as a “marriage.” I treat homosexuals the way I would want to be treated but I have always been clear about my perspective that homosexuality is sin.
I encourage you to exercise discernment as you carry out these principles. Live your life well. Practice clarity regarding the truth. Practice love in all things. Proclaim the gospel.
Even a group as small as our team of writers disagrees on exactly how all of that should look. But despite whatever positions we come to in our practice of secular citizenship, we know that the clearest call God has made on our lives is to make His salvation known to the nations. All have sinned, all fall short of God’s glory, and all are in desperate need of His saving grace. We are the ambassadors of that message, and our prayer is that political stances will never detract from the only message that truly matters.