Photo credit: 2006 cbamber85/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
No longer content to govern itself, the church has spread out to rule the culture through legislative force, attempting to use the tools of government to order the lives of consenting adults. Like an empire, the church finds itself on patrol beyond its rightful territory, which is shocking when one considers how much space the church has been given, by God first and this country second.
The church already possesses the freedom to engage the culture through dialogue, art, the marketplace of ideas, hospitality, care, and robust teaching. We have the right to share and live the good news of Christ resurrected. We have the reach to notice, defend, and love the orphans, the widows, the poor, the hungry, the outcast, the falsely condemned, the unjustly treated, and victims of violence and coercion. We have the liberty to love our neighbors and our enemies. We have Micah 6:8:
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Why is it not enough?
The state of discontent in our faith is not the fault of the GLBT community. Perhaps we have become discontented with the humility and quietness of actual faith and ministry. If so, this is tragic. In a culture embracing unhinged consumerism, it is not surprising that the church would grow bored of the feast of ministry, moving on to snack on private affairs within the broader culture.
In a quest for church strength and national longevity, our cultural conquests are making the church and the nation weaker and more divided. In a crusade for a more wholesome culture, we have injected pride, arrogance, hostility, and vitriol. Even those who respectfully stand against an issue that is at most a symbolic victory have contributed to the creation of unnecessary foes.
Justice for the abused and disadvantaged rather than the consensual
I have heard gay marriage argued against with the example of Nazi Germany, by people asking “where was the church then?” They say genocide is what happens when we fail to act on our morals as a church. I find it troubling that this is even considered a valid comparison to the GLBT community’s wish to marry. One is force, the other is consensual. Force turns sex into rape and employment into slavery. This is why the church is universally applauded when it combats sex trafficking, and esteems people otherwise harmed, neglected or left behind, because in those moments the church is elevating the individual rather than trying to restrict it.
This is why Christians must find that tension between being completely disengaged from the broader culture, or consumed by it, and consumed can come in different forms. One form tries to water down personal faith to the extent that he or she is indistinguishable from the broader culture. Another tries to fashion the culture to look like his or her faith. The latter is what we see in the anti-gay marriage movement.
The church has been here before (and survived)
The reason no one will be making the argument against gay marriage in twenty years is the same reason the average person would not be in agreement with Christians advocating for laws against all alcohol consumption, tattoos, or cursing, even though some Christians sincerely view those as sins and have what they feel are the verses to back it up.
Go with me a step further, those of you who are against gay marriage in the broader culture, and let me attempt to discuss this on your terms over the next three paragraphs.
Remember the fight against pornography? The Religious Right lost that battle too. But while pornography rakes in billions of dollars in the U.S. annually, the church has not been silenced. In fact, the church has quite a multifaceted approach to the problems stemming from porn. The dangers of pornography are still preached from the pulpit, churches offer counseling or connection with counseling services for porn and sex addicts, some churches exist solely to befriend those within the adult industry as well as those men and women recovering from their participation in the production or consumption of porn, and non profits are built to walk with women who have been harmed by their experience in the adult industry. It’s by no means a perfect example, but I hope those of you who disagree with gay marriage in the broader culture see this point and will reconsider your approach: while porn is here, so too is the church. Sometimes, I think losing the culture battle is the best thing for the church, so that it can remember its place and then get back to its calling.
When you look at Christ, do you see Him forcing teaching or standards of living on everyone? He taught people to seek- as Rev. Earl F. Palmer said so correctly- seek is a freedom word. That means ministry is intended to grant people the dignity of choice as well as our patience. These ideas can be held along with the charge to go and make disciples.
Jesus also told stories. He was silent at times, refusing to answer. Or he answered questions with other questions. He went where he was welcomed, and often retreated from the crowds or the mobs. Hardly an in your face kinda guy. When Jesus did chide, it was most often reserved for the religious know-it-alls and fruitless trees. Christ also raged when he witnessed a perversion of the church, and if you see gay marriage in the broader culture as the same thing, you are forgetting to remember that this nation is not your personal house of worship. That’s what your house of worship is for. It’s time to stop trying to force other people to eat your vegetables. Gay marriage is no more a threat to your marriage than the divorced neighbor or the guy down the street who just had an affair. The greatest threat to your marriage is what you and your spouse do or don’t do with it.
You’ve confused a war on your religion with not always getting everything you want. It’s called being part of a society. Not everything goes your way.” -Jon Stewart
The point of it all: fruit, not culture feuds
Belief in Christ is a transformative journey, producing fruit and a sincere effort in obedience, and while the fruit, or goodness does not save us, it is a sign of Christ’s transformation in those who believe. Belief must produce a new motion in our lives, and not towards every endeavor we happen to bless, but towards actions which bring glory to God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. -Galatians 5:22-23
The church mistakes earnestness for righteousness. “Well as long as I’m using scripture to back it up.” Did Jesus accept that justification from the religiously earnest who knew their religious law and used it as a disproportionate weight on the backs of others? The epidemic problem in the American church is that we have become “position people,” swapping faith for a mental concept, and mistaking ministry for being on the correct side of an issue. This is my guess as to why the church is so often absent on matters where it is actually needed, because we have become satisfied with the notion that we just need to think correctly and tell others to do the same and God will smile down on us all.
We can know The Good Book like a pro, and still fail to live the point of it all. The Bible, if mishandled, can further a person’s quest for power and control. So what is the fruit of fighting against gay marriage in the broader culture? Because the anti-gay marriage culture warriors are making enemies whether they mean to or not. This isn’t to say those who oppose gay marriage are incapable of producing fruit elsewhere; it is to say that the church movement to stop gay marriage in the broader culture has been a largely fruitless campaign.
I once saw a photo of a protest sign at a pro-equality rally in Seattle that read “focus on your own family.” That is Biblical advice. It is the work of God through his spirit that changes hearts, not the church as the Morality Police, especially not when we focus on the deeds of consenting adults in the broader culture, and most certainly not when we try to enforce it by way of legislation. We’re getting our kingdoms confused, and that is not salt nor light.