Saturday, July 4, 2015

Culture, Counter-Culture, and the Way of the Cross

Through the years on this blog, I have occasionally touched on the hot-button issue of sexual orientation. Today I find myself increasingly reluctant to do so, because the topic has become such a lightning rod, and because I know so many people who are touched by this issue, either directly or indirectly. Indeed, I consider myself to be one of them.

Yet for those same reasons I find I must speak, for the recent rush toward universal acceptance of the LGBT lifestyle has grown into a stampede virtually overnight, so that people who wonder where the herd is now headed will not say so out loud for fear of being trampled.

Frankly, it is not fun to be labeled a hateful bigot. So what can be said that will now be helpful?

First and foremost, the church's guiding principles on this topic are as they have always been: love, grace, truth, obedience. God did not set us upon the earth as its judges, but as His witnesses. This means we are to be holy, to be sure ... a peculiar people, set apart from the world. Yet this holiness is not innate, but was dearly bought, and we who have been blessedly forgiven and redeemed cannot then turn and condemn those who are lost and dying. Jesus' views on Pharisees and unmerciful servants are plain and compelling. There is no one for whom our Lord reserved harsher words, and we ought never to forget it.

What's more, we who grew up before same-sex relationships went mainstream need to remember that passive revulsion is not acceptable simply because it's not active hostility. Jesus did not tolerate ambivalence toward the "really lost" in His disciples, but demanded they lift up their eyes and see the need.

How far does this imperative go? Consider Rosaria Butterfield, who once fiercely advocated for the lesbian lifestyle she lived before converting to Christianity, and now provides helpful perspective on what mercy demands of us. Warning ... it is far more than mere tolerance:

On the other hand, in this current environment much of the church--especially our youth--seems eager to veer from mercy into full-throated advocacy. Rainbow-colored profiles recently adorned the Facebook pages of a surprising number of my young Christian friends, as they joined the "celebration" of the US Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide.

Is this wise? Is it loving? Is it God-honoring? After all, Jesus loved the sinner, but He did not celebrate the sinner's sin.

Some of these same friends also posted this interesting article by Canadian pastor Carey Nieuwhof, in which he essentially says that Canada has had the same law for a decade and the sky has not fallen.

What he also says is that the church must be counter-cultural:
"If your views are cultural, you’re probably not reading the scriptures closely enough."
This statement appeared to get less notice from my young friends than some of Mr. Nieuwhof's other salient points, to include his reminders that non-Christians cannot be expected to live like Christians; that the church ought not be looking to government for validation; and that there are many other sexual sins rampant in the church. All very valid and good points.

Yet they are also incomplete when unmoored from their starting point, for none of it removes the basic fact that homosexual behavior is clearly set forth in Scripture as sinful, and Christians must not let laudable compassion for the LGBT community devolve into giving license to sin.

The church cannot be counter-cultural while simultaneously celebrating the culture's latest trend. In the words of professional football player Benjamin Watson:
The pressure of conformity is overwhelming at times. In light of the recent court interpretation of the constitution, the pressure is more intense than ever. Compassion, an important virtue, for our fellow man compels us to consider the feelings, plight, and desires of others in controversial times. Like a deceptive undertow along the seashore, though, emotions can sometimes carry us away, appealing to our human longing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. A movement, a cause, or a certain political position, give us a chance to make our mark, to make our difference and to be noticed among the generation. With emotions and tempers flaring, venom and accusations in the air, and the battle lines being drawn more clearly each passing moment, I find it of utmost importance, now more than ever, to return to truth. 
Christian football player Ben Watson
makes a counter-cultural statement
Throughout this process, the years long debate to redefine marriage, I regret that I have had more disdain for those who engage in a same sex attraction lifestyle than I have had for those who engage in a number of other outright violations of the Word of God like drunkenness, idolatry, or adultery (1 Corinthians 6). It is a constant battle to extend the same grace to those I struggle to understand as to those who’s sin strongholds I can identify with. It is NOT my job to hate, disparage, or condemn anyone. I lack a hell to send anyone to, or an achieved righteousness by my own merit from which I can justifiably fire accusatory arrows at anyone. It IS my job, however, to hold truth in its proper place and to call myself and others to the standards set forth in God’s word, the only absolute in a world of opinion.
Holding truth in its proper place is difficult when our ideology leads our theology, and truth becomes the first casualty. In such instances, we see the case for scripturally justifying homosexual conduct is quite a tortured one. But such is the cultural and ideological desire to defend this particular category of sexual behavior that God's clearly enunciated design for the monogamous male-female union is pushed aside, while the explicit and repeated New Testament proscriptions against same-sex unions are rationalized away.

Of course, everyone assumes Paul is talking about someone else when he warns those who "give approval to those who practice" evil. Yet in the case of homosexual behavior, it is clearly listed among the sins he is troubled by in this passage, so Christians need to ask themselves whether "compassion" that encourages something God hates is really compassionate, any more than "politeness" that fails to pull someone back from the path of a speeding train is worthy of the term.

In short, ought not our compassion drive us to speak the truth in love, rather than encourage the sinner in his sin?

As to whether this is just one of many sexual sins the church struggles with--indeed it is! The key, however, is that the church "struggles" with most of those sins. The problem with the discussion we are having now is whether we ought to simply stop struggling with this particular one. For most, the act of "coming out" means the struggle is over, and the behavior will not merely be owned, but celebrated as a lifestyle. This makes it an especially perilous sin, because it is life-defining in a way that others are not.

While there are certainly lots of hypocrites in the church committing all manner of sexual sin, as long as they recognize the wrongness of it there is a way for them to repent.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. -- Proverbs 14:12
The gospel we preach is about life eternal. It is death we hate, and we must love the dying enough to want to keep them from it ... even if it means provoking their resentment. This is hard, but it is the way of the cross.