Now is not the time to sulk.
We lost the big one. We as Christians have made the case that traditional marriage as God has designed it, is embodied by a man and a woman joining together. However our culture is not convinced. Much to our dismay, it is now the law of the land to permit other forms of “marriage.”
We as Christians, we have this temptation is to go off and sulk in our holy corner, or we dig in our heels and try to fight harder. We could also lash out in anger. Not only can We can do better, but we must do better.
How do we start? I believe it is by taking to heart the Beatitudes:
Rejoice. Not in the decision, obviously, but as Paul say in Matthew 5 “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” And elsewhere, “Give thanks to God in all circumstances.” And this paraphrase: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, or prevail against you in the public square because of me. Rejoice and be glad…” (Matt. 5:11).
So what exactly do we rejoice in? Start with the big things: That our God has not gone anywhere. That Christ’s death and resurrection remains and will always be the power of salvation for all. That the gospel still goes forth daily. That the gates of the Supreme Court or Congress or anyone else cannot prevail against Christ’s church. That there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That his kingdom will come—and that there remains a great deal of important work for us to do in the church and in society until that day.
Repent. Another temptation we have now is to point our finger at all of the forces—political, social, philosophical, spiritual—aligned against the church and its moral teaching. Without denying the reality of “principalities and powers” (Eph. 6:12), we do well to ponder this: What actions and attitudes have we embodied that have contributed to our culture’s dismissing our ethics? Our homophobia has revealed our fear and prejudice. Biblical inconsistency—our passion to root out sexual sins while relatively indifferent to racism, gluttony, and other sins—opens us to the charge of hypocrisy.
Before we spend too much more time trying to straighten out the American neighborhood, we might get our own house in order.”Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matt 7:5)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit who mourn their sins”(Matt. 5:3-4).
Rethink. This certainly means thinking afresh about what we will and will not do when, for example, a gay married couple, seeking to draw closer to God, shows up in church and wants to get involved. It nearly goes without saying that we will welcome them unconditionally as we would anyone who walks in the door. But what does love look like in this instance? What do we encourage before we ask them to adopt the Christian sexual ethic? This depends on a church’s tradition and its beliefs about baptism, church membership, eldership, and so forth. But many evangelical churches do not have a denominatonal tradition to lean on and will need to think through these matters with fresh urgency.
One issue that demands special attention is divorce and remarriage. The Bible has much to say about marriage (as much or more than it does on homosexuality), and yet the evangelical church has become lax about honoring the marriage vow. We use the word grace as a cheap way to avoid the awkward tough love of church discipline. Such inconsistency has been a major stumbling block for those outside the church. This does not mean we forbid all divorce, nor all remarriage. It does mean we evangelicals have to come to an agreement about what constitutes legitimate biblical grounds for divorce and for remarriage, and maybe even create a covenant amongst ourselves that will help us on this matter.
No matter the specific issue, we do well to remember that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness in such matters are blessed and will be filled (Matt. 5:6).
Re-engage. There is talk today that the church has been removed from its place in society. We are said to now live “in exile” and “at the margins.” To some degree, yes, but then there is this:
In other countries, such as Burma, Christians are restricted from building churches and schools. The social and political hostility of peoples faith has became so oppressive, many have fled their homelands,That’s exile. We in the US are far from living at the margins. We still live in a society that protects free speech and free assembly, that supports our religious freedom, that permits all its citizens to participate in governing at all levels. To be sure, we see serious challenges to these rights and liberties, challenges that require vigilance and hard work in the days ahead. But as it stands, these rights and liberties prevail here as unlike anywhere else in the world. Let’s make use of them for the common good—becoming peacemakers (Matt. 5:9) as best we can as we re-engage at all levels of politics.
Reach out. Now that the issue of gay marriage has been decided, we may find that we have a greater opportunity than ever to build fruitful relationships with those in the LGBT community who have been hostile to all things Christian. Up to this point, we’ve been seen as a threat to their political agenda. Now that we have lost on the issue of gay marriage, that threat is removed and it may not be long before we see more willingness to engage us as fellow human beings. We should welcome and even initiate those moments as opportunities to share—in mercy (Matt. 5:7)—the good and beautiful news of the gospel like never before.
Rejoice. Again with Paul we say, rejoice. In particular, we can rejoice because of God’s call to us at this critical juncture of history. Just as the 4th-century church was given the responsibility to think through the nature of Christ, and the 16th-century church had the task of pondering the relationship of faith and works, now this is our time to think through and respond to a host of issues surrounding human sexuality. What we teach and what we do in this moment, will shape the church’s thought and life for generations to come.
This is not just as calling of national or church leaders, but of each and every Christian household. Whether we’re lobbying in the halls of Congress to check the spread of sexual trafficking or teaching our children about the precious gift of sex, we are reinforcing and shaping the church’s teaching on sexuality. We have been given a great responsibility from God and we should have great gratitude for being entrusted with such a vital task.
And so, we walk into this uncharted future not with a nervous heart but with humility (“Blessed are the meek…”) and confidence (“… for they shall inherit the earth” Matt. 5:5). Christ still remains Lord and is still leading his church. Blessed are those who know this, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.