Saturday, June 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriagee

I am writing these thoughts the day after the Supreme Court ruled that states are no longer allowed to ban same sex marriage.  Although I am assuming mostly Christians--mostly members of my church, in fact--are reading this, I am sure that many of you--Christian or non-Christian--will disagree with at least some of what I say here.  I admit these are my thoughts alone; simply my way of trying to make sense of current events (and how we as Christians should respond) in light of my interpretation of God's Word.  I welcome your comments.

So with that disclaimer, I offer the three things that are most on my mind today:

First, I rejoice at what hasn't changed:   God's love hasn't changed.  He still loves every person, all of whom are made in His image, Christian and non-Christian, gay or straight, black, white, brown, red or yellow, with a love so profound He was willing to die for them...for us.  The power of Christ's blood hasn't changed.  His sacrifice on the Cross was completely and totally victorious.  He is still able to save anyone, gay or straight, who calls out to Him as a repentant sinner in need of redemption. God's commands regarding sex haven't changed.  He created sex to be a beautiful thing, which binds a man and a woman together so deeply, it presents a picture of God's love for His Church, and creates families, the building block of human society (which He made before either Church or State--Genesis 2).  Like most beautiful things, it can be misused.  Any use of sex outside of God's explicitly stated plan--whether it's a married man having a one-night stand, two teenagers in the back seat of his dad's Chrysler, or two people of the same gender--is using sex in a way God never intended.  It may produce short-term pleasure, but it produces long-term damage, physically, emotionally, relationally, and most of all, spiritually, as it pulls us further away from the God who loves us.  And the truth of God's Word hasn't changed.  For decades now, we've lived in a culture which wholeheartedly believes that sexual expression and fulfillment--however one defines it--is an inalienable right.  The logic of that thinking, if we follow it to its obvious conclusion, is horrific.  But it doesn't change the truth of God's Word.  God gave us His commands not to be restrictive, nor to create a standard for showing who is "good" and who is "bad,"  nor to give us a way to earn God's love, which cannot be earned.  His commands are intended to show us a way of living that, no matter what the world says, produces joy, hope, and peace.  His commands come from His loving desire to see us live fulfilling lives.

Second, I shudder at the anger and fear I see and hear from my fellow Christians in public and on social media.  Christians in America have been largely motivated by anger and fear in our response to the larger culture for my entire life, and frankly, I think that's a significant reason why our culture is where it is today (I'll back that statement up in a moment).  Jesus' brother James said, My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness (James 1:19-20).  You may be thinking, "But I am angry with a righteous indignation, like Jesus and the prophets."  When Jesus got angry, it was at religious leaders, whose judgmental attitudes were driving hungry sinners away from a loving God.  When the prophets got angry, it was at Israel, God's own people, for turning away from the God who had saved them and made them a nation. I can't think of one time when God or His messengers were angry at unbelievers for thinking and acting like unbelievers.

"But I love my country, and I'm afraid we'll experience the judgment of God for turning away from His commands."  In Scripture, we see God judge Israel for breaking the Covenant He established with them when He made them a nation.  We see God judge other nations (Egypt, Edom, Assyria, etc) for mistreating Israel.  But we are now under a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31).  God relates to us as individuals now, not as nations.  Besides, God never made a covenant with America; only with Old Testament Israel.  I think our situation is similar to the Jews who were deported to Babylon.  They found themselves as part of a culture they didn't understand, which mocked their beliefs and flouted their moral convictions.  Yet God's instructions to them were not to be angry and afraid, but to Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper Jer. 29:7).  In other words, love the people you live among now.  Be the best Babylonians there are.  But never forget that your true home is Jerusalem.  We are angry because we feel like America has been taken from us, as we see the cultural influence of Christianity drop precipitously over the past few decades.  In truth, America was never ours in the first place.  We are aliens here, even if for a time we held a substantial influence over our culture.  Our Babylon may be the best Babylon on Earth, but it's still Babylon.  Our true home is the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21).

Our anger doesn't even make sense.  What would have happened if the Supreme Court had ruled otherwise?  It wouldn't have changed the fact that millions of Americans disagree with biblical commands about sex. It wouldn't have changed the fact that an increasing number of Americans want nothing to do with Christianity.  Let's remember: Our primary mission is not to create laws that force people to behave like Christians.  Our job isn't to try to control people's behavior.  Our purpose is to represent Christ so compellingly, people of all stripes will be drawn to Him and experience eternal and abundant life. Let's face facts: Unless something extremely unforeseen happens, we will never again live in an America in which the cultural consensus agrees with us on sexuality.  The Supreme Court decision didn't change that fact.  Now that it's happened, rather than be angry or afraid, let's be hopeful: Hopeful that the American Church will finally renounce the idol she has made of politics and public rhetoric, and will return to serving our true God (not that we'll abandon politics and public rhetoric, but that we'll keep them in their proper place in our hearts).  Let's be hopeful that American Christians are finally through fighting against gay people and will start loving them as Jesus does.

Speaking of which, when the modern epidemic of AIDS hit thirty years ago, we didn’t respond like the ancient Christians did (sociologist Rodney Stark has written that ancient Christians stood out by aiding victims of epidemics, even pagan victims, even when their own families had left them to die.  Stark says this is one factor that explains how ancient Christianity outlasted the Roman Empire and its religion).  Most of us were just as afraid as everyone else was.  And a few of us said hateful things about those who were dying, as if their sins were worse than ours, as if they deserved to die--forgetting that if God held us accountable for our sins, we’d all be dead immediately.  They didn't speak for most of us, but none of us publicly rebuked their hateful speech, either.  We were too busy thinking to ourselves "I'm glad this is just a 'gay' disease." That's what I meant earlier when I said that our anger and fear are responsible in large part for the society in which we currently live.  If they had seen courageous compassion from us back then (like the world saw from Christians in the first three centuries), things would likely be very different in our culture today.  We blew a huge opportunity then.  Let's not blow another one now.

Finally, more than ever before, I am motivated to pray.  I pray for my fellow Christians, that we would renounce our fear and anger, and let our confusion push us closer to God.  I pray that we would turn away from things that feed our fear and anger--political talk shows on radio and TV, alarmist social media posts and emails that we're tempted to read and forward and "like."  I pray that, instead, we would study the life-giving truth of God's Word, and pray for our own hearts to be more like His.  I pray that I would take advantage of every opportunity in these crucial days, when people are watching--more than ever before--to see how we respond, and that I would show the world a love and compassion and courage that can only come from a gracious, righteous God in me.  I pray that the American Church would experience, at long last, the revival we've been needing.  I pray for Christians who themselves struggle with same-sex attraction.  They receive no support from the larger culture, which tells them their celibacy in obedience to God is stupidity; yet they often feel they cannot share their struggle with their churches.  These are some of the most courageous people I know. I pray for gay people in this country, many of whom see us as their bitter enemy (because that's how we've treated them), that somehow they might come to know God's saving love in spite of their feelings toward us (it happened with Saul of Tarsus, after all).  I'm praying for God's Kingdom to come, His will to be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. 

These days, there is often a concern to be "on the right side of history."  No matter what our political and judicial leaders say, no matter what media opinion-makers broadcast and publish, no matter how badly we Christians manage to mess up, this simple fact remains: Ultimately, whoever is on the side of Jesus is on the right side of history.  Hallelujah.  


Anonymous said...

Beautifully said, Jeff. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Jeff Berger said...

Thank you for the encouragement!

David Dennard said...

Thanks for that post, Jeff. It gave me a much needed sense of perspective!

Jeff Berger said...

Thank you, David.

Scott Bonasso said...

My sentiments exactly, Jeff.

- What bothers me most is the caustic rhetoric from both sides.

- As much as we would like it to be, ours is not a Christian country per se. I like how you put it: Christians should not idolize politics. God's kingdom is the only kingdom that matters, not any of men's fallible "kingdoms" on this earth. Putting one's faith in politics is as foolhardy as with any other "idol."

- "The times they are a-changin'." Christians' response to current cultural changes is crucial! It is an opportunity! This is the time to show others - especially non-believers or those with whom we disagree - love, compassion, civility, dialogue; not judgment, condemnation, bitterness.

Jeff Berger said...

Well said, Scott.

Anonymous said...

This thorough and Biblical expression is very powerful and is very much appreciated. While I was saddened at the Supreme Court's ruling, as you have clearly pointed out, Jeff, it is only symptomatic of a culture increasingly defining right and wrong from a personal, how-does-it-affect-me, perspective. No one has ever been argued into the Kingdom and it is only our love--His love through us--that will mark us as true Jesus followers. Much damage is being done to the Kingdom by the shrill and strident tone of condemnation coming from many pastors in the media in reaction to the Supreme Court. While I understand their concern, I observe how very rarely Jesus provided reactive commentary in His words on the pagan and even cruel actions coming out of Rome during His day. His harshest words were reserved for the most religious who rejected His grace. His command that we love (John 13:34-35) is the distinctive characteristic by which we as His children are to be known.

Jeff Berger said...

I couldn't agree with you more. It's our love that will win the day, not our anger and fear.

Karla Smedley said...

Brilliantly written. i like this "as if their sins were worse than ours, as if they deserved to die--forgetting that if God held us accountable for our sins, we’d all be dead immediately." This "Our purpose is to represent Christ so compellingly, people of all stripes will be drawn to Him and experience eternal and abundant life." This "Let's be hopeful that American Christians are finally through fighting against gay people and will start loving them as Jesus does." and "Ultimately, whoever is on the side of Jesus is on the right side of history. Hallelujah." i pray this attitude is contagious because you are right on! thank you

Jeff Berger said...

It's great to hear from you, Karla! And thanks for the kind words.