“You've all been subject to smarmy and grandiose posts from the Heretics in our midst about how the Church should react to the recent ruling in favor of gay marriage.
Let me take this opportunity to deliver my own self-important monologue on the subject.”
y Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
You’ve all been subject to smarmy and grandiose posts from the Heretics in our midst about how the Church should react to the recent ruling in favor of gay marriage. Let me take this opportunity to deliver my own self-important monologue on the subject.
At this moment of weakness, the regular false prophets have risen up to announce the necessity to change doctrinal course. Their arguments have not changed since the last time you heard them, of course; they have nothing truly new to contribute intellectually. But they now wield the bludgeon of their political triumph, and that makes it seem as if they are more correct now.
So once more, let us rehearse the strategy they are using against us: The strategy is to cause hesitation. They do not wish to directly persuade. They know that we have found their torturous abuse of Greek and Hebrew to be silly and embarrassing. They know that we have successfully seen through the various hermeneutical innovations they have proffered. They know that their direct appeals to extra-biblical moralities fall on deaf ears.
So instead they insist that this isn't just a stale political question; this is about your neighbors whom you are called to love. They insist that we need to be slow to speak and that we need to model Jesus’ engagement of those with whom He disagreed. We need to befriend more LGBT people and learn from them. We need to treat these people like real humans and stop minimizing their experiences. We need to believe the gospel that doesn’t put one person in a place of judgment above another but treats everyone as equal before God. We need to stop waging a “Culture War” against oppressed sexual minorities. We need to consider persecution a joy and stop being so insecurely focused on protecting our own. We need to be willing to die even for our enemies. And besides, why are you feeling persecuted that LGBT people can now get married? What kind of a selfish slave morality is that? You didn’t help LGBT people when they were feeling persecuted. AND HEY! WHAT ABOUT THE SIN OF GLUTTONY, YE HYPOCRITES?
It’s not direct persuasion about the issue. It’s about persuading you to hesitate. Do not let these false prophets touch your heart.
It is not just a stale political question—it is a question of loving our neighbors, and above all, it is a question of loving our God. Furthermore, the love of our neighbors is not measured by the warm feelings our neighbors have towards us. This subjectivization of love is what God’s Word stands against.
As for being slow to speak, as one might suspect, the context reveals something far different from what the standalone line conveys:
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:19-25)
What exactly is being heard? It is not the experiences of those who self-identify with their sin; it is the difficult practical requirements of the Word of God. Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to other people. Oftentimes, listening to others is a basic requirement of love. But it does mean that there is “[a] time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7b).
We do need to always be more like Jesus. We need to embrace with open arms those who flee the accusations of Satan and repent of their sexual sins, saying to them, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11). That is how Jesus treats repentant sinners. But as for unrepentant heretics, Jesus says, “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34). We need to be deeply engaged with any LGBT people that come our way and love them with sincerity. But while we want to get deeply connected to these people, we are emphatically not connecting to them in order to discover the truth about LGBT moral issues; we want to get deeply connected to these people because we want to love them and share the only gospel that truly gives life.
In believing that we have a gospel to share, we should not be improperly minimizing the experiences of these people. But there is, in fact, a place for minimizing experiences! When people exaggerate their interpretations of their experiences to the level of being as high as God’s Word, those experiences need to be deflated back to their appropriate levels. Experience Idolatry is not something the Christian should endorse.
We know that the gospel places all of fallen humanity at the same initial moral level. Every Christian has at one point been in hateful rebellion against God and has needed to repent (in fact, we constantly need to repent). But God’s gospel is itself an objective and perfect revelation that is intended to reorder our disordered minds and hearts. Christians aren’t universally infallible in their apprehension of the gospel, but a vast share of Christians are preaching the gospel with perfect accuracy.
The Word of God doesn’t declare that no person can make moral determinations of right and wrong. What Scripture makes clear is that morality isn’t up to individual whim, neither to add rules (legalism) or subtract them (antinomianism). Interpreting what Scripture does and does not require isn’t a hopeless task; rather, God has given us the Holy Spirit by which we can come into fuller and fuller understanding of His true Will.
As for the “culture war,” a little bit of history is helpful. The term comes from the German historical event called “Kulturkampf,” or “culture struggle.” You can read that article on your own, but the gist is that Bismarck tried to destroy the Catholic Church in Germany first by banning political speech in churches, controlling seminary education of clergy, and heavily regulating the education in religious schools. In the United States, it refers to the political battle between conservatives who reject the cultural revolution of the 1960s and liberals who champion that revolution. As with most revolutions, it is all-encompassing and makes increasingly extraordinary demands against the various minority opinions arrayed in opposition. In the past, and even now, the “culture war” has been fought on a relatively even playing field. Conservatives were free to engage public life just as much as liberals, with only a few exceptions on the more restrictive public university campuses with speech codes. But the reason the alarm is sounding in the Christian community is because the playing field is about to be changed. The underlying rationale for the same-sex marriage decision is based on an equivalence between opponents of homosexuality and opponents of racial equality. On that basis, some of the same impediments that Bismarck consciously used to try to destroy the church may gradually come up through our legal system. The Canadian experience with the legalization of same-sex marriage has been uninspiring, to say the least.
The accusers then turn to perverting Christ’s commands about receiving persecution with Joy, turning the method of receipt from identification with Christ (wherein our persecution is understood as analogous to the murder of Christ on the cross) to a blanket masochism (wherein suffering itself should be understood as a good for no clear reason). Persecution of Christians is a tragedy to be decried and opposed; persecutors are mired in grave sin. We rejoice that persecution identifies us to a watching world as images of Christ, but with Christ we call out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).
In this way, “protecting our own” is precisely what we need to be doing. We need to be encouraging one another to stand strong against the swelling tide of opposition from the World. The greatest love is not to die for an enemy but “greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The gospel is that Jesus opens His friendship to sinners. We need to be open to this too, especially since we ourselves are sinners. But not all sinners accept Jesus’ friendship; if they do not, they are His enemies. In a similar way, the World that hates us hates us as our enemy. We need to love our enemy, but this does not eliminate the fundamental opposition the two parties are in.
This invites questions of whether Christians truly count as being persecuted in the United States. At this moment, it seems fair to say we are not being persecuted, at least not systematically. It is not the fact that gay people claiming to be married in a way now recognized by the state directly triggers Christian claims of persecution. It is a more long-term vision of persecution that many Christians are concerned about, along the lines of the culture war visited before. There is already a hostility to Christianity that should be expected from the World that does not amount to persecution, but now the advocates of persecution are coming out of the woodwork in earnest with their calls to penalize our assembly.
The final objection comes from the mentally impaired denizens of the blogosphere that cry “hypocrisy” because the Church has not called battalions to arms in the war against Gluttony. The only reason this ridiculous claim has any purchase is due to the mistaken conflation of damnation and severity. God is perfectly holy and cannot abide a single sin, of any severity, in His presence. To commit any sin is equivalent to breaking the whole law in that sense (James 2:10). But the testimony of the rest of Scripture clearly indicates an asymmetry in the severity between sins (Mark 3:28-30; 1 John 5:16; consider also the difference in penalty between property crimes [Exodus 22:1] and murder [Genesis 9:6]).
When we look at the sin of gluttony, we find it mentioned seven times in the following ways:
- Titus 1:2 — a xenophobic slander against Cretans with no moral teaching;
- Luke 7:34 — a false accusation against Jesus;
- Matthew 11:19 — a false accusation against Jesus;
- Proverbs 23:20-21 — a warning about the material consequences of gluttony and laziness;
- Proverbs 28:7 — a warning about the shame consequences of the glutton; and
- Deuteronomy 21:20 — a sin mentioned in the train of problems parents have with a child whose capital sin is his disobedience.
But even if we were to argue for equivalence between these sins, the situational aspect of the matter also speaks in our favor. As far as I know, there is no politically organized movement to confer political benefits and special protections on people who ground their identity in overeating. There is no threat against churches and religious schools that want to remove people who are living in the unrepentant sin of gluttony or want to make hiring decision based on people’s unmitigated eating disorders. It’s not that the Church is neurotically obsessed with sex; the culture is neurotically obsessed with sex and the Church is prophesying into the culture.
Oh, also, Scripture specifically calls out sexual sin as more significant than other sin (1 Corinthians 6:18). So there.
So with those arguments broken down, we are free to think among ourselves about the questions of the present moment. There are a few different issues:
- How can we protect our schools, social services, and public religious expression from “anti-discrimination” blackmail as legal threats develop?
- How can we protect our churches from paying an assembly penalty in the form of a “loss of tax exemption?”
- How can we individually and corporately maintain the public witness of the Church to the goodness of true covenant marriage and extend the love that Christ has for people suffering as LGBT, without one compromising the other?
- How can we capitalize on the strategic lessons learned from the pro-life movement to reverse the Supreme Court's ruling that has legalized same-sex marriage and other rulings that have similarly weakened the marital institution?
- What doctrine do we need to reconsider in greater specificity and what doctrine do we need to reconfirm as enduringly proper?
It is not, in fact, true that gay marriages are good for the “married” parties or their children.
It is not, in fact, good for men to mutilate themselves in an attempt to cure an unshakable sensation that they are actually women.
It is not, in fact, good for divorce to be easy and faultless.
It is not, in fact, good for unborn children to be murdered.
As Christians, we know these things by faith; we draw these implications from an honest reading of God’s Word. But social science requires more data points and more distance from the “historic moment” to be able to demonstrate these truths for those who rely on sight. It will require destruction of lives, childhoods, and bodies.
Once it happens, the evidence will be in the stories of ruined lives. We need to be prepared to love these people with Christ's love as this unfolds. They will have been told that we hate them, that we are repulsed by them, that their identity and meaning lie in their sin, and that Scripture condemns them. In the midst of this, we must be living the counter-narrative, not by compromising truth, but by acting out genuine compassion that can shatter such lies. Sometimes this will be easy. Many LGBT people are fun, interesting, and respectful. Sometimes this will be hard. Many secular people, including LGBT people, believe their feelings are the standard for morality and will take feeling offended as a necessary indication of a sinful offense. But no matter the outcome, it is always a requirement and should be a genuine desire for the loving Christian.
And that means staying involved in the public square and in vocations that secular people have decided are strictly “secular.” It's easy to want to abandon the involvement project and retreat into an Amish existence, but we need to instead model Jesus by preaching the gospel everywhere.
In this moment, we feel assailed on all sides by the culture at large and, sometimes, by our friends in particular. Sometimes our leaders are more interested in proving themselves fashionably disengaged from politics than in encouraging their scared flock. But our final comfort remains unchanged: Christ has set us free from our own sin and has commissioned us as His ambassadors until He returns to judge all people and restore all things. No matter what cultural degradation plagues our nation or any other nation, no act of evil happens without God’s hand of loving restraint, and nothing comes to pass without His will that intends all things for the ultimate good of the Church. Suffering does still come, but consider how richly He has already blessed us. Let us not stop thanking Him for His love, even as we work diligently to obey His Word and protect our fellow and future brothers and sisters from persecution.
Matt is pursuing an MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary and is the apologetics coordinator for Ecclesiam. He has previously managed projects for Epic Systems. He graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a B.A. in Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy. His main academic interests include political theology and the role of morality in economics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.