Lots of angst over last week’s Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage. But should Christians act like their home has been invaded by enemies or should we live as if this world is not home? When you put the American flag in your church building, you may be suggesting a level of comfort with the nation that is unhealthy. But aside from flags — let’s see, did that also come up last week? — reactions to the Court’s decision may be revealing of where Christians feel at home (or not).
Last Saturday, Scott Simon on Weekend Edition interviewed Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr. about the decision. What was particularly arresting was the bishop’s reservations about identifying gay or marriage rights with the civil rights of African-Americans:
JACKSON: Well, at this particular point, I really feel the politician, the judges had failed the citizens of the District of Columbia years ago and now the greater nation. Only from the perspective that 50 million Americans had voted, and about two-thirds of those folks were for traditional marriage, and now we have the judges basically making decisions for us. I want to continue to stand for traditional marriage, but, certainly, we have to recognize that this is the decision of the highest court in the land and, this is the way we conduct ourselves with order.
SIMON: Bishop, President Obama, among others, has compared marriage equality to the Civil Rights Movement. Do you agree with that? Disagree with it?
JACKSON: Well, I disagree with it in one critical level. The hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement – and I’m an African-American – were, you had to have opportunity to get a job, a place to live, due process of law. I don’t see that same level of opposition or prejudice as I look at the gay community. It’s less of the crushing oppression that I’ve received, the Civil Rights Movement folks dealt with, in times gone by.
For Jackson, the decision raised fundamental political questions about the ways of governance in a federated republic. The stakes did not involve the Christian character of American society.
But An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage goes right to the Bible to contradict the Court:
The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.
Notice the words, churches “now find themselves in a new moral landscape,” as if up until now Christians were living at ease in a Christian society.
But if Christians have never been at home in this world after the ascension of Christ, if they are strangers and aliens, should they ever feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them? Here’s a helpful reminder from Peter Lawler about Augustine:
I really was quite moved when, driving through the heavily gay midtown section of Atlanta last Sunday, I saw so many homes and businesses flying the rainbow flag with the American flag. It’s not a a small thing that so many gays now feel fully at home in their country, where they’re free to live openly as who they are. But I wish more people were moved by Catholic writers calling for the American flag to be removed from the sanctuaries of their churches. Some argue that it never should have been there in the first place, and a Christian should always think of himself, as Saint Augustine says, as an alien or a pilgrim in his country. Still, many Christians have written in the last few days they have come to think of themselves, for the first time, as aliens in their country, and they know they will soon be marginalized if they live loudly and proudly (and charitably) as who they are.
Living like aliens and strangers doesn’t mean abdicating civil responsibilities. It does mean setting your expectations at the right level for life in this world. Why would we ever want this world to be so holy and righteous? Wouldn’t we then not want to go to our truly beautiful house, the one being prepared by Christ?