Recently, I heard something that absolutely astonished me. I overheard a conversation between two girls in my church. They were talking about prom, and one said, “If a guy is going to ask me to prom, I want him to do it in a creative way.” I butted into their conversation and said, “You mean asking someone to prom should be like asking someone to marry you?” They both looked at me as if I had been living under a rock, and informed me that this was indeed the expectation now. It even has a name: Prom-posal. One cannot simply call a girl up and ask her to the prom; one has to stand on a table in the middle of the school cafeteria and sing a song he himself wrote, or hire a skywriter, or some other elaborate gesture. I am so glad I am not a teenaged boy! I think back on my marriage proposal (my wife and I celebrate 23 years together this week). The only things I got right that night are that I asked the right girl, and she said yes. And that was marriage, not the prom! An older man I knew used to say, “I’ve lived too long.” I’m not ready to call myself old yet, but I feel that way sometimes. Times are changing, and in many ways, not for the better.
Times are changing in our spiritual landscape, too, and in many ways, not for the better. The latest Pew Research survey on religion came out a few weeks ago, and once again, the irreligious are growing faster than any religious group. Evangelical Christianity is holding steady--1 out of 5 Americans is evangelical, and kids raised in churches like ours tend to keep the faith--but other forms of Christianity are declining markedly. This June, the Supreme Court is expected to render a decision that strikes down all state bans on gay marriage. Even if they don’t, which would be a shock, people across the political spectrum agree that it’s only a matter of time before same sex marriage is legal in all fifty states; that’s the overwhelming desire of the people. Now you may ask, “What does that have to do with being a Christian in America?” Well, nothing directly. But think about what it means. America was founded as a secular democracy; our founders made sure there was no state religion. But Christianity has always held a place of high moral influence in the culture. Not everyone was Christian, of course, but society at large tended to listen to the teachings of the Christian faith in determining what was right and wrong. The Church was seen as a force for good, and therefore, was given respect. In other words, we’ve had a home field advantage in this country since the very beginning.
In 1996, around 25% of Americans thought people should have the right to marry someone of the same gender. Now, less than 20 years later, that number is up to around 63%. What does that mean? Today, for the first time I know of, we see American culture saying, in effect, “It doesn’t really matter to us what the Bible teaches* on this issue.” And not only do they not care, a significant portion are saying, “If you continue to believe what you believe on this issue, you’re not being faithful to your God, you’re being hateful and bigoted, and you need to be forced to change.” This is a brand-new place for Christians in America; not only have we lost our home field advantage, in the eyes of many, we’re the bad guys. That’s not just true of the so-called Christians who are hateful and judgmental (those people have always been seen as the bad guys in secular America, and in much of the Church) that’s now true of anyone who claims the Word of God as his or her authority in life.
*(For the record, what does the Bible teach? Unequivocally, it says that sex is meant for a man and woman within marriage, period. Any other use of sex, whether it’s two teenagers sleeping together, or a married person having a fling, or homosexuality, may produce short-term pleasure, but it’s not what God designed us for. It will lead to long-term brokenness and alienation from God. That doesn’t mean that people with homosexual orientation are cursed by God or hated. I have several sinful tendencies that seem to have been in me since birth; but that doesn’t mean God hates me for it. In fact, I believe some of the most courageous Christians I know are men and women who feel a homosexual orientation but, out of a desire to obey Christ, have chosen a celibate life. They say, “I’m going to follow God’s plan for every part of my life, even though it’s hard, and believe that ultimately, that is where I will find joy.” Scripture also doesn’t justify treating homosexual men and women with anything other than love. Yet I know that many people today, if they heard me say those words, would say that I hate homosexual people.)