The above link highlights a lot of my general feelings towards the current tension between the Church and her message to gay folks. Although not explicitly elaborated on, Boyd does believe that engaging in homosexual behavior (and thus gay marriage) misses the mark of God’s ideal– which is the truest definition of “harmatia” (translated “sin” in the N.T.)
Boyd puts forward some very thought-provoking comments that are worth serious reflection and consideration. Sadly I feel very few Christians will ever bother thinking through them because for many homosexuality is a “dealbreaker” in their minds, and thus contenting themselves with merely “judging gays” from afar is so much easier and less strenuous on the heart than being an ambassador of God’s reconciliation.
Watching this video prompted a few thoughts in my own mind and I share them here. My heart does break for my home country in many ways because I know her moral decline (i.e. greed, over consumption, apathy towards poor, promiscuity, gay marriage) and economic miscalculations and wastefulness will continue to contribute to her eventual undoing. But then again my ultimate hope is not in America but in a “Kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Sometimes I think American Christians merge these two domains together and blur their important distinctions.
1600 years ago Augustine, the great church bishop, wrote about the barbarian overthrow of the city of Rome which was precipitated by a moral and spiritual corruption that made her fat and lazy and ultimately vulnerable to barbarian Visigoths in 410 AD/CE. He ended up writing a book on Rome’s fall called “The City of God” where part of his aim was to console those who were in deep grief and confusion over the fall of their beloved Rome, a city thought by many to be an “eternal city.” Augustine reminded his readers that there are two “cities” that call out for our allegiance, one earthly and one heavenly, and that the heavenly city is to be our ultimate concern and pursuit. Ironically Augustine sometimes blurred these two realms himself (through an un-holy church-state union) but nonetheless his point stands.
I can’t help but wonder if American Christians today are seeking to preserve the “earthly city” of America and curtail her moral decline at all costs– including putting the Kingdom of God in second place.
I will explain that further, but first a quote. I believe it was the Irish statesmen Edmund Burke who famously stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I have often heard Christians leverage this quote against other Christians who would dare question the intensity of which the Evangelical establishment is opposing gay marriage.
I think Burke’s quote is very appropriate for issues of social justice like slavery, sex-trafficking and child prostitution when the innocent lives of others and their free-will is being stripped from them in the bondage of oppression. Such social evils aren’t simply moral sins that run contrary to Godly morality–they are acts of injustice towards the lives of defenseless persons. Not all sins fit this category. For example we know that pre-marital sex runs afoul of God’s moral prohibitions, as does adultery, greed, gluttony and apathy towards the poor. But we don’t seek to go around passing laws prohibiting teenagers or adults from having sex outside God’s established covenant of marriage. Nor do we pass laws against hoarding, greed or overeating.
Similarly, I question whether or not Burke’s quote is as fitting and appropriate as some Christians think who feel their Christian faith compels them to legislatively combat and campaign against the “evil of homosexuality” and its acceptance in the world.
Homosexual behavior and gay “marriage” is more akin to the sin of marital affairs, pre-marital sex and unwarrantable divorce than societal evils like slavery and human trafficking. That is not to say they are morally neutral or even neutral in their societal affects and implications. Indeed anything that misses the mark of God’s ideal (i.e. sin) is going to have devastating affects down the road for any society.
The fact is God warns us that our worldly society is always going to be in contrast to the Kingdom–which is why we aren’t called to “Christianize” city states or nations. Rather we are called as ambassadors of another world to display the love, beauty and justice of another society, another kingdom– God’s Kingdom– to our secular world. The principle means we do this is through a message of reconciliation–not by accusing people, condemning them and holding their sins against them as “dealbreaker” sins.
As Boyd reminds us, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 that as ambassadors of the Kingdom, stationed here in a foreign land, our job is to be “ministers of reconciliation.” Moreover Paul specifically defines that as “not holding people’s sins against them.” In other words it is the opposite of accusing people in such a way that we deny them God’s grace!
With that said, from a Kingdom perspective, what is the greater “evil” that will triumph when “good men do nothing?” Is it people increasing their free exercise of sin in a worldy society? Or is it people feeling they are enemy #1 of the Church– the same church whose commission is to bring a message of grace and reconciliation to such people? Would not the greatest of evils be that Christians are too busy legislating, campaigning and judging to display God’s heart of reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness and transformation to those who most need it?
We don’t want to water down the journey of holiness and transformation God wants sinners to walk through, whether they are gay, materialistic, gluttonous, murderers, sleeping with their girlfriend or struggling with porn. But sinners need to first grasp that God’s grace accepts them dirty and sin-stained as they are.
In other words we don’t go around telling people, “You need to get your “shit” together before you step into our Church.
I think gays are the only ones we mark out in this way. Now on balance we don’t put them in Church leadership positions, and we are called to explain to them that being part of God’s family involves a progressive denial of an old life and a desire to walk in obedience. But for all of us this is a journey…a process…and God’s grace finds us in different places throughout our lives. Could it be that God would say the greatest tragedy and the greatest evil is that “good men” (i.e. His ambassadors of reconcilation) are doing nothing to display God’s grace to those who most need it?
Now it’s necessary that I posit a small caveat here–lest I be misunderstood. I am not saying “love and grace without cost–without repentance.”
God does accept us the way we are–that is true. But he has very real and very motivated plans to change us! The journey of the Christian life is about partnering with God in that change.
The Bible speaks of this transformational change in numerous ways, such as: “being conformed into the image of Christ”, “putting off the old man and putting on the new man”, “being a new creation”, “being crucified with Christ”, “a good work being brought to completion”, “being born again”,”no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me”, “picking up the whole armor of God” and “putting on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” And Bonhoeffer was right. For Jesus put it this way: “Unless a man denies himself and picks up his cross, he cannot follow me”(Lk. 9:23). For some who confessedly struggle with a deeply ingrained same-sex orientation, their cross to carry may be a daily denial of the passions of thei flesh and what seems natural for them. This cannot be easy. I’m a 36 year virgin whose natural, biological inclination is to want to have have sex with every beautiful woman I see. Yet natural desire does not equal divine sanction. To conflate these two is to be deceived. It’s not easy–but I’m committed to honoring the boundaries God has established around the sanctity of sex.
Sometimes I ask myself, “Why Matt? Your urges are natural and the female enticements are in plentiful supply.” The only answer I have on lonely nights is that my denial of the flesh is ultimately for his namesake and his glory. In the same manner a fellow brother or sister who finds same-sex attraction to be their natural inclination can choose to deny themselves–painful as that may–and do so as unto the Lord–for his glory. I believe one day in the Kingdom to come, God, will extol and exalt many such people and say, “Well done my faithful servant–you chose to partner with my grace and carry a cross of denial few have had the courage and perseverance to carry.” Keeping the eternal Son in view is paramount in all these matters of denial that pull on our affections–just as gazing upon the sun makes the luster of a diamond pale in comparison.
So–all that to say the Christian life is about–transformational change and correction in the inner person. It is not about staying static and unmoved in the manner in which God found us. The scriptures themselves are admittedly “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
With that said, for Christians who feel it is their duty to purge sin out of a secular culture, how do we get around Paul saying in 1 Cor. 5:12, “What business is it of mine to judge those OUTSIDE the Church? Is it not to judge those inside? Those outside the Church God will judge?”
Paul said this to the Corinth church that lived in a city that was known around Asia as being a den of debauchery where homosexuality and a host of other sins and perversions of God’s ideal were practiced everywhere. If the Church at Paul’s day thought their commission was to save the Roman empire from moral decline, rather than be a light set on a hill pointing towards a totally different Kingdom–I’m not really sure Christianity would have gotten past the 1st century.
I would much rather see the Church’s focus be a cultivation of worship, love, grace and holiness such that gay folks who intuitively (though H.S. conviction) know they are living outside God’s ideal, can come inside and find grace and strength…and patience…in the arms and prayers of God’s people as they make their way towards personal redemption–even if their cross to carry is a life-long denial of the passions of the flesh. But is this the reputation the Church has right now? Not at all… and something tells me that is the greatest of evils.
For my further thoughts on gay marriage and how this issue concerns the church, feel free to click: “Gay Marriage, Gay Contempt–Both Desacralize the Sacred”