Friday, March 29, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage and the Christian Voice

Okay, I have been through several drafts of this post, so I am going to try to keep it really simple.

Just to contextualize myself, I believe that marriage, by defiition is between a man and a woman. I believe that it is a beautiful and God-given idea. It reflects commitment, oneness, and also the unity-in-diversity that belongs to the Triune God.
So, it is not surprising that I am troubled by arguments in favor of gay marriage. But I am also troubled by most of what I read by people who are opposed to gay marriage. Sometimes I am troubled by poor arguments and illogical thinking. More often, though, I find myself troubled by the tone of the comments made by brothers and sisters in Christ who want to use their voice to speak out in favor of the "traditional" definition of marriage.
If you are reading this as a non-Christian, you are welcome to keep reading. That said, this post is not intended to convince anyone of anything when it comes to same-sex marriage. This post is meant to explore how those of us who are Christians use our voice. And I want to do this by making three simple statements that I think can be helpful to us.

1. Your Voice is a Precious Commodity
God has given each of us a voice. We use that voice through our words, both public and private. In today's society, this also includes our posts on facebook, twitter and blogs. Your voice is a gift. But your voice is also a trust. Don't waste it.
Right now I am not talking about the fact that we need to be kind and considerate with our words. I will talk about that later on. Right now I am talking about the fact that only a few things will define our voice. We all have friends who are always talking about one thing. Maybe it is sports or movies or TV shows. Maybe it is fitness or food or clothing. Maybe it is politics. After a little while, we all begin to label these friend
s. This one is Fitness Gal. This one is Sports Guy. This one is Walking Dead Fan. And this one is Political Guy.
This is even more true of our facebook "friends." Facebook doesn't consist of long conversations. We get soundbites. We get a few sentences to express ourselves to the world. This may sound silly to you, and I don't mean to get grandiose. I know that most of us don't spend a great amount of time on what we post. We just say what is on our mind. Nevertheless, what you post ends up being how you present yourself to the world. You are using your voice.
So, to what will you lend your voice?
While most of us don't spend a lot of time considering what we post and what we say, I think we should. After all, your voice should be precious to you. When you are expressing yourself to the world, you should think about how you are coming across. You can only post about something so many times before your voice becomes consumed with that one issue. This is true of politics, sports, family, health . . . and same-sex marriage.
For those of us who are Christians, this should not be an insignificant consideration. We are given the great task of bringing Jesus' light to the world. It would seem natural that we would want our voices to be consumed with what is most important to him.
I am going to ask you not to stop reading after this sentence.
The core of Jesus' message does not concern marriage. It does not concern homosexuality. It does not concern politics.
Now, stick with me. I am not saying that these things don't matter. I see big implications for how our country ends up defining marriage. But nobody's eternal destiny is determined by where they land of this issue. This doesn't mean that it is wrong to talk about it and post about it. But it does mean that our voice should not be consumed by this issue.
Today is Good Friday. It is important to remember that Jesus did not die so that gay people could not get married. He died to save sinners. Like me. And like you. I want my voice to be all about this message. Gay marriage is not unimportant, but it is not the crux issue either.
Our voice is a precious commodity. We should be very thoughtful with how we use it.

Just Because It's True Doesn't Mean It Need to be Said
As children, many of us were told that if you can't say something nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. At some point I think we decided that adults are exempt from this truism.
Just because something is true doesn't mean that it needs to be said. We all know this. If someone is fat, you don't need to say it. If someone's clothes look strange to you, you don't need to say it. If someone loved a movie and you didn't, you don't need to tell them. When we refrain from speaking the truth, we are not necessarily compromising in a cowardly way.
Here is where all of this is heading. Christians need to talk about gay marriage, but we need to be wise about when and how we do this.
Some Christians go all the way to the other side. Some Christians side with the cultural norm and don't hold to God's Word. Caving to the cultural norms is neither loving nor brave. I am not saying that the way we love people is by agreeing with them when they believe something that is untrue. If someone is morbidly obese, you don't necessarily need to comment. But if they are consistently talking about what great shape they are in, you should not affirm this. They believe something that is untrue and destructive.
I hope you can sense that I am not saying that Christians should not speak up about gay marriage. I think we need to.  I think we should talk to our children, I think we should educate our churches. I think we need sermons and classes and small groups and books and articles to help us tackle this. It is one of the hot topics of our time. I have preached about it in the past, and I don't think we should stop addressing it. I also think that there is an appropriate place for engaging the culture on this issue. There do need to be people who write and speak in the public sphere. The purpose of this writing and speaking should be not simply to champion something that we think is true, but to warn people against something that we think is destructive. You only warn someone if you care about them. This concern should come through in how we speak.
And it is important to remember that the normalizing of homosexuality does not mark a divide between the Christian worldview and the typical American worldview. These worldviews are already at odds. The main chasm between the two is not gay marriage. The main chasm has to do with what we believe about Jesus. Christians believe Jesus to be the once and future king, the risen Lord of the whole world. Nonchristians don't believe this. Our goal is not that nonchristians would embrace the "traditional" definition of marriage. Our goal is that they would embrace Jesus, the only one who can bring forgiveness and salvation and significance.
We all need to remember that it is possible to waste our voices on something that is true. Just because it is true doesn't mean it needs to be said at every opportunity. Wisdom should lead us to timely words.

Our Tone Is Part of Our Content
It is not simply that our tone impacts the content of our words. Our tone is part of the content.
It has struck me that Christians often use Jesus' conduct to justify two opposite (and equally wrong) approaches.
1. Some Christians will say that we should be like Jesus, who was meek and mild and would never have hurt anyone's feeling. The Christians who say this need to read the gospels. The Jesus who would never dare to offend is not the Jesus we encounter through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In the gospel we encounter a man who is willing to speak with brutal honesty in order to set people free from the lies that they have embraced.
2. Some Christians will say that we should be like Jesus, who boldly confronted his culture. To this assertion, though, we must ask this question: "To whom was Jesus speaking when he was boldly confronting people?" He was not speaking to Rome. He was not speaking to the "godless" and to "sinner." He was speaking to men and women who claimed to embrace God's Word and God's ways. He gave his sharpest rebukes to those who should have known better. He didn't rebuke the "godless." He rebuked us!
We should not use Jesus' example as an excuse for our own cowardice. We must be willing to speak the truth in love. But we also must not use Jesus' example to justify a harsh and antagonistic tone with nonchristians. Jesus never treated "godless" people as the enemy. He came to seek and save those who were lost. He still seeks and saves those who are lost. This is our calling.
If you are dismissive and condescending and antagonistic toward nonchristians, what are you trying to accomplish? It is not good enough simply to say, "Well, I told the truth." Maybe you did, but this is not a good enough reason to say something. And consider the possibility that you didn't tell the truth. Perhaps what you really said was, "I am tried of all of you who don't embrace the Bible like I do. I wish that you all would either just get on board or get out of the way." If your tone communicates this message, then you are not on-message with Jesus.
If we are going to enter into the hotbed of the public conversation about gay marriage, we must consider our tone. We cannot be careless with our words on the subject. We must demonstrate that we love the people with whom we are speaking. We must demonstrate that God loves them. Just ask yourself right now whether a person's long-term good is more impacted by whether they know that God loves them or whether they know that gay marriage is not real marriage. The answer should be clear.
We must recognize that we are engaging with many people who don't think that the Bible is God's Word. We are engaging with people who struggle to understand why a God of love would tell someone not to do something that seems very natural to them. We are engaging with people who largely take for granted that it is hate speech to say that homosexual behavior or in any way inferior to heterosexual behavior.
Now, I believe that they are wrong. I believe that the Bible is God's Word. I believe this because almost 2000 years ago a man was raised from the dead after predicting that this would happen. And this man affirmed what was already written in Scripture and then entrusted his apostles with writing the rest of Scripture. I also don't think that a God of love would tell us to do what is natural to us. Many of our natural inclination lead us to pain and loss. I also don't believe that it is hate speech to say that a behavior is wrong.
So, I disagree with many people around me. But I still need to recognize where they are coming from. If I am dismissive or biting, I am not helping anyone.

This is much longer than I intended it to be. I apologize for this.
Let's not shrink back from the truth, but let's always remember that our voice is precious. Just because something is true does not mean that it has to be a part of our voice. And nothing should dominate our voice unless it is of utmost importance. In a week like Holy Week, when we celebrate the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, the things of utmost importance are right before our eyes.