“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.” – Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy
As of last Friday, it would seem that the Supreme Court of the US took the definition of marriage from the hands of the people and put it on a high shelf out of reach. Plenty of others have commented on the legal, moral and social implications of the 5-4 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, so I don’t intend to take our time here being outraged. Instead, I want to offer these seven steps to help you remain hopeful in spite of the decision.
But first, a reminder
I have declared my biases from the beginning: I am a profoundly imperfect follower of Jesus Christ and I depend on Him and His grace. I hold the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God. What it says about the nature of God and the nature of man I take as true for all people in all places at all times. (It’s not necessary for you to agree with me, but you should not have to guess where I’m coming from.)
Although I publish this blog on my dime and on my own time, I serve my local church as an elder, so I am not my own. I do not reserve to myself the right to write or speak in a way to bring disgrace on those to whom I am obligated, including my Lord. In the spirit of loving God and loving my neighbor, I offer the following as encouragement to those feeling disappointed or dismayed by the court’s decision.
1. Look around. Nothing eternal has changed
True, the Supreme Court has ruled, and justices of the peace and county clerks are doing land office business issuing marriage licenses and performing ceremonies for same-sex couples. But God is still sovereign and He gets the last word over the affairs of men. The physical and moral laws of the created order are still in effect. Psalm 46:10 reminds us, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” This God is the Most High — the King of all kings and His kingdom in unshakeable.
2. Rejoice: Agape love wins
This is the trouble with English: we only have one word for love. In the US, when the word love appears in conjunction with the word marriage, the connotation is of romantic or erotic love — eros.
I submit to you that the kind of love that never fails is that unconditional love that the ancient Greeks called agape. This kind of love is not transactional, is not rooted in feelings and begins and ends with God Himself. This is the love that motivated God to have mercy on His fallen creatures, to take on human flesh and make atonement in our place to satisfy the claims of divine justice. Even if we must suffer for it, this is what we are called to offer to this fallen world.
3. Say it after me: My stuff stinks
We are all fallen. The Bible teaches that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is a form of pride to categorize sin — especially when I seek to file all of mine under N for “Not That Bad.”
In The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote, “when you admit a negative, the (customer) will give you a positive.” In this context, being candid about our own failings — especially our own sexual brokenness — and our ongoing need for God’s grace, may cause those who don’t share our faith at least to acknowledge our good will and perhaps to reconsider God’s offer of forgiveness.
4. Hold your head up
I like being liked. Nearly all of us do. (I said nearly all, ok?) It is tempting to soft-pedal what one thinks about the issue of same-sex marriage — especially when friends and colleagues are applying rainbow filters to their profile pictures. Although the matter at law was decided outside of the political process, what citizens believe and live by still matters. This is no time to go into hiding, nor to be intimidated into silence.
The thing about truth is, once you know it, you can’t un-know it. If we have faith that God exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him, we do not have to fear. More importantly, there is still a vast world of hurting people who need the love of God – we are just the people to bring it to them.
5. Don’t be fooled
Freedom of worship is not the same thing as freedom of religion. Freedom of religion includes the freedom to worship, but the opposite is not true. This is a linguistic shell game that we must refuse to play, because freedom of religion is the first freedom. The freedom to practice your religion means you are at liberty to act or not act according to the tenets of your faith and your conscience. If your conscience is privatized, what you believe will only be allowed within the walls of your church and between your ears – it won’t be allowed to show up in any meaningful way.
6. Be on the lookout for triumphalism
There are lots of people — from the president on down — hailing this decision. Fair enough. But there have already been triumphalist articles like this one, calling for elimination of churches’ tax exempt status if they refuse to alter their doctrines to accommodate the will of the Supreme Court. There are plenty of flaws in the argument — not least of which is calling a tax-exemption a subsidy — but this idea clearly overlooks the many ways faithful believers and their congregations improve their communities and send medical care, literacy, clean water — and hope — all over the world.
There’s also this: Jesus said the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church. This is encouraging enough to keep us going, but sobering enough to keep us humble. In the meantime, heed Jesus’ admonition to be as cunning as serpents, gentle as doves, and be a street-smart Christian.
7. Remain vigilant
In a previous post, we discussed how Marxist feminism sought to bring about cultural revolution by destroying men. Recall that the snares intended to destroy men were (and I quote), “… promiscuity, eroticism, prostitution and homosexuality.”
When I published the original post, I understood how the first three were corrosive to monogamy, but I was unclear how homosexuality played into this. Redefining marriage — or more specifically, saying there is absolutely no difference between heterosexual and homosexual unions — makes this clear. Add to that the high percentage of self-reported “open” same sex marriages, and the picture’s focus gets sharper still. Over time, we’ll see whether and to what extent same-sex marriages become more like heterosexual marriages, or whether heterosexual marriages become more like their same-sex counterparts.
We are fallen creatures, and temptation is strong — especially sexual temptation. But participation in the program of our own destruction is completely voluntary. If we believe there is a qualitative difference in favor of heterosexual marriage, those of us who are married need to do a better job of stewarding the institution.
Waiting for orders
As long as we live, we who bear the name of Christ are to love selflessly and serve the lost and the least. As the author of Hebrews wrote:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” – Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)
We who follow Jesus are no longer setting the agenda for our culture. This does not relieve us of our duty to love those for whom God gave His son — yes, especially when it’s difficult.
So how about you? How do you intend to stay hopeful? Add your comments below.