The evangelical right-wing got quite the shock when World Vision President Richard Stearns, announced that their hiring policy was changing to include Christians in legal same-sex marriages as well as gay Christians who follow their policy of abstinence outside of marriage.
The anger from many evangelicals was quick and punishing and directed at everyone but themselves. Churches, individuals, and denominations, all denouncing the move, pointing the finger at liberals, and some withdrawing their support of WV. Americans are observing yet another instance where the issue of same-sex marriage is creating a highly polarized flashpoint of controversy–most of it with very negative implications. What we don’t seem to grasp is how utterly disconnected we are with how the world perceives us. Applauding the likes of John Piper and random angry web bloggers chastising the announcement, makes non-church people shake their head in utter disbelief. These are the memories we creating for people as they see what Christians are about.
It’s hard to explain at times. But the issue isn’t so black and white. We can’t just happily assume everything is love without dealing with the tension we find in scripture on this issue.
How should we approach this issue in light of the recent World Vision announcement without falling into either ditch?
(It should be noted, Canadians largely aren’t distraught about the topic, the power of the evangelical right here is largely kept under wraps.)
Homosexuality has largely been treated as a fundamental theological tenant that many are willing to protect and defend at all costs, except for death. Tellingly, those martyred aren’t right-wing Christians picketing the loss of ‘family’ but rather bullied kids and adults bombarded with hatred). That notion simply put is largely due to reformed traditions who rest their faith not in Jesus Christ, but in the written scripture, and if the scripture isn’t held literally in the decided upon parts then the whole foundation of faith tumbles. It’s also heavily dependent on the road to hell (or heaven). Ultimate love is eternity with God, and to accept things the Bible clearly state are wrong is to essentially ‘cheapen’ what Christians can stand against.
The boisterous evangelical right we often see on TV can be accurately described as a religion based on fear. Conversations usually include the mention of: fear of homosexuals, fear of hell, fear of the degradation of the family. It’s also fascinated with perdition. John Piper’s quick note on the topic, which delighted most (and was the least vitriolic), constantly laments about the degradation of the gospel at the expense of perdition to the point the piece reads like a glorification of perdition.
On the other end of the spectrum recovering evangelicals and the ‘Christian left’ celebrate the announcement, or perhaps more accurately, didn’t even notice. These people would not conclude World Vision has committed the greatest betrayal of the Gospel. So the two sides, one turns everything into Deepak Chopra-esque ‘love all things’ without consequence, the other chooses rules and regulations over relationship.
What is required and emerging is a third way that attempts to deal with the tension with a fresh lens that doesn’t paint such a polarizing picture. A third way is also required because both sides are so far apart that the overall reflection poorly represents the Kingdom.
So then, without solving the issue, here are some leading questions to ponder, “how can we deal with this tension in a better way?”
- Scripture IS clear, albeit routinely the context is ignored, that the act of homosexuality is forbidden. In the least this must cause tension with those who carte blanc approve of homosexuality.
- Regarding scripture, how do we balance Jesus’ fundamental and over-arching message of love (John 15:13) versus the words of condemnation by Paul (1 Cor 6:9)?
- That speaks into another issue of interpretation. If we are to treat homosexuality as wrong because it’s in the Bible, how do we balance the oppression and injustice churches commit on these groups? Oppression is unjust according to the Bible, do we use some kind of scale/balance to determine when churches can be unjust to protect theological points? If so, can we also assume there’s a ‘greater good’ when we balance Jesus’ commandment to his disciples to love, vs. Paul’s expression to the Corinthians on judgement?
- Is the Gospel black and white? How many things are actually non-negotiables? It’s unlikely to be denominational creeds or theological doctrine. So why then do we fight so hard to preserve these traditions at the expense of deeply and consistently wounding the LGBT community?
- On the topic of human rights, to deny someone employment due to the sexual orientation, does that not strike you as a human rights violation? In the least it propagates the continued marginalization of an already marginalized group.
- Is World Vision a church? Does it represent a wider Christian expression as a social agency?
- What is the Gospel? Is it Calvin’s interpretation of Paul? Is it literally Jesus, and if so, how does that impact how we view the ‘gray’ areas? Or does it impact how we view what some consider non-negotiables? I.E. Same-sex marriage.
- Does the act, or even the threat, to withhold aid to the least among us because gay and lesbian people are serving an OK balance?
- Has the Christian community, the holy catholic church, reached consensus on this issue?
Reason and humility are necessary starting points for highly polarized topics such as these. In the very least, we should be able to see that because of the lack of consensus, there might be different ways to view the issue, and in the very least, different ways to have this conversation.
We must also considering how poorly these types of arguments are viewed by everyone else–those who have no religious memory. The consistent lashing out minority groups is considered archaic religion that’s regressive to our culture. We should be worried about how and what everyone else thinks about us because in our activity Kingdom is supposedly previewed. Here I am assuming a definition of Kingdom where God is on a mission to usher in his reign and put the world to rights. That is, to right all the wrongs in our world and redeem what is broken.
Love is hardly brokenness. Declaring that homosexuality is betrayal of the Gospel, betrayal of Jesus essentially, is an exercise in contempt that arrogantly takes the Son of God and fits him into a particular theological box.
Something doesn’t fit.
Ultimately, God is God and thankfully final judgement rests in the Son’s hands. If it weren’t so, the widening chasm between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ may split so far that both sides are swallowed whole.