[Disclaimer: if you’re looking for something clean and family-friendly, this is not it. I’m dealing with a tough and messy topic that needs to be addressed]
This post is a long time in coming. Both in that, yeah, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything here, and in that what I’m about to write has been formulating in my mind for just as long if not longer.
Since the last time I blogged, I’ve finished classes, taken finals, packed up everything I own, and put all but a couple suitcases in a storage unit. I’ve spent a week and a half with my grandparents in eastern North Carolina, flown halfway around the world, and have now been with my family in Chiang Mai, Thailand for about a week.
My first Sunday in North Carolina, at church, the associate pastor stood up to give the message. (The church is currently without a senior pastor.) He brought up the constitutional amendment that the state had passed the previous Tuesday, to applause and amens. The one that constitutionally banned same-sex marriage, even though a state law is already in place to the same effect. I felt sick.
That was not the only time it came up. I heard it praised multiple times that Sunday, and it came up later in the week as well—every time accompanied by something to the effect of Praise God. And why not? After all, this is what traditional, conservative, American Christianity advocates—taking back the nation from an increasingly Godless government, reversing America’s spiral into immorality by winning over the legislature. They’re championing God’s cause…aren’t they?
I am not so sure God is as excited about it as they are. Had Jesus been one of those who cast a vote in North Carolina that Tuesday, I’m not convinced he would have supported this amendment.
Now, don’t get me wrong. These are great people, great followers of Jesus. But in this issue they, and many others, are unfortunately missing the point.
Now, there was a time—not all that long ago, to be honest—when I would’ve backed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But living in a Christian bubble half a world away from America, it was easy to feel far removed from the issue and pass judgment based on the traditional, conservative Christian view.
But the debate is no longer about a hot topic for me. It’s about people. There is now a face on the issue. The face of a good friend—an awesome man of God, who I recently learned has same-sex attractions. He recognizes that the Bible defines marriage to be between a man and a woman. And so he must live on his guard, shutting down anything sexual that arouses in him. He is denied that intimacy, as long as he has this curse, because to satisfy that desire is biblically wrong. And it is incredibly isolating—made worse by the utter hatred of homosexuals by so many in the church.
Shortly after learning this about my friend, I read a blog making the argument that homosexuality is not, in fact, condemned by the Bible. In short, I wasn’t convinced. My first idea for this post was as a response to that. I would start by pointing out why his argument didn’t hold water, but then I would bring it around to make the more important point. But now, some time having passed, and now that this whole thing in North Carolina has given me a lot more to talk about, I’ll just leave it at: I’m still convinced that the Bible does indeed state that sex between people of the same gender is wrong. But my more important point was this: The guy writing this article, and the people on the other side of the spectrum who treat people with this issue like garbage because “the Bible tells us to” are both making the same fundamental error. They make the mistake of thinking of homosexuality as an identity, inseparable from the person. The very term “homosexuals” defines people by it. We need to get past thinking of it as who they are. Acknowledging homosexuality is a sin does not have to entail hating people who practice it (or struggle with it, even if they don’t practice it, for that matter.) And loving them does not have to mean condoning what they do.
I can relate to my friend’s struggle in one respect. My sexuality is broken too. Just because I am attracted to women doesn’t mean I have it all together in that area. For that matter, every single person who’s ever lived (save one) has had to deal with a broken and sinful sexuality. (And actually, even Jesus faced sexual temptations, I’m sure. Thankfully, he didn’t fall for them.) We all face this stuff, in one form or another. Same-sex attractions, or lusting after that hot chick. Homosexuality, or adultery. What makes the husband who has an affair, the man who is addicted to porn, or the unmarried couple who live together, better (or worse) than the two men who live together? If there’s grace for the first group, why not the last couple? On what basis does the church withhold love from people who deal with homosexuality just because their sexual sin is different from ours? And remember, Jesus hung out with the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the people who, in first century Judea, were considered worse sinners than everyone else. (Also remember: he was hated by the religious establishment.)
We need to start seeing these people as…people. And loving them. Like Jesus does. And stop making them hate us by legislating that they live exactly the way we want them to.
If the amendment that passed in North Carolina a couple weeks ago was intended to make a statement, it succeeded. If it was intended to get a whole lot of people ticked off, it worked like a charm. If it was intended to bring God back into America, to advance the Kingdom…it failed. Horribly. The most ridiculous part is that it didn’t actually even change anything in law. State law already restricts marriage to a man and a woman. The constitutional amendment just made sure it stuck that way. And rubbed it in the faces of everyone that wishes it were otherwise. And got them really mad. At the church.
But we need to ask—is this really our job? To force our morals on everyone else by voting them into law? After all, some of Jesus’ last words on earth were something along the lines of:
“Go into politics and make laws of all the commands I have given you, forcing everyone to obey them, whether they like it or not. And be sure the nation and the government are never lost to unbelievers.”
Wait…that doesn’t sound right. Try:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)
A few years ago I read a couple books by Philip Yancey. One was What’s So Amazing About Grace?, and the other was The Jesus I Never Knew. I loved them so much that I have read a lot more Yancey since then. But in one of those first two (I really don’t remember which one—it easily could have been in either) he pointed out that the early church didn’t enjoy what we take for granted and are now up in arms to keep—a Christian government. They were a small minority under a pagan empire. The idea of winning over the majority of government and establishing Jesus’ morals as law would have been laughable. But look at the growth. In Acts, thousands upon thousands of people flocked into the Kingdom. And over the course of history—well, look where we are now. Millions upon millions consider themselves Christians. Nations have been established by followers of Christ, founded on his principles. But remember: one of those principles was freedom to choose. America’s founding fathers understood the importance of not coercing anyone in their beliefs. History had already demonstrated the result when the church and politics get too wrapped up in each other. And we still live in that religious freedom. And if you even think about arguing that we’re losing our freedom—go read about Christians in North Korea or any other number of countries out there. Look up Voice of the Martyrs and read what they have to say. Then tell me we in America are losing our religious freedom.
Ironically, this push to establish Christian principles as law…sounds an awful lot like a Christian version of sharia law to me. Which any Bible-thumping Christian (and all those Islamophobic email chains that make me sick to read) will tell you, is a move away from religious freedom. There’s some perspective for you.
But I digress. As Philip Yancey pointed out, the more he looks at the environment of the early church, the less concerned he is about the top-down secularization of America. Our approach should be bottom-up.
If all the energy the church spent retaking politics and legislating against sin was spent reaching out to those around them, loving people and making disciples, imagine what our evangelistic efforts would look like. Imagine the effect on the Kingdom. Imagine the effect on the world.
We need to get our priorities straight. We need to care about people, not beat them over the head with laws. To repeat myself, to make sure I’m clear: this does not mean we say it’s OK that they’re living the way they are. It means we worry about getting them into the Kingdom first. Then we come alongside them as the Holy Spirit cleans up their lives. And like my friend, they will need us. Once that lifestyle no longer is OK, once it becomes a burden to bear, and a monster to fight, they will need all the love and support they can get. Just as each of us do, in our struggles with our own burdens and monsters. This is the church, the Kingdom of God. A band of once-misfits, forever changed by the grace of God, extending that grace outward. Walking through life together, fighting alongside each other, as we walk the journey from our old lives towards our future. Bringing everyone we can in, because we don’t want anyone to miss it. None of us are perfect, but washed in blood, we are. Our mission is to save the world. Not by taking over the government. By making disciples. Therefore go…