Can Christians hide in the basement during the gay marriage debate?

by Denny Burke

“I think Jen Hatmaker probably represents the feelings of a lot of folks who are worn out by the culture wars. In a recent post, she urges Christians to sit out the public debate on gay marriage. Her argument is simply that we have better things to do and that we are alienating gay people from Christianity by participating. So she plans to retreat to the metaphorical “basement” to ride out the storm in seclusion, and she urges other Christians to join her. In her own words:

Christians, do you really think posting pithy statements on Facebook about “standing firm in our values” and “resisting the liberal media” is helping? The lines we draw in the sand do absolutely nothing except assure everyone else: YOU’RE OUT. When we turn to politics and power to legislate our brand of morality, we take the opposite approach of Jesus whose power was activated in the margins with the outcasts…humbly…peripherally.

I’m sick of the Jesus forwards and judgment. Sick of majoring on gay marriage. Enough, everyone. With every hate Tweet and finger jab and Bible bludgeon, you are telling my gay friends they are indeed unwelcome, unloved, unvalued, and uninvited. If your agenda is to battle homosexuality, how’s that going? How many gay folks read your Prop 8 yard sign, knocked on your door, and said, “Thank you for voicing your opinion to the neighbors in this manner. Would you kindly invite me in and teach me how to be straight? And do you have a Bible study I can join?”…

How are these culture wars working out for us? Well, the church is losing around 50K folks a week, and the next generation downright refuses to come. The gay community is ostracized entirely (oh, they’ve gotten the message alright), and Christianity has turned into white noise.

At one level, I understand the frustration reflected in this post. I have dear friends who are gay who disagree with my point of view. I take no joy at the impasse over what is such a sensitive and personal issue. Also, I don’t like the careless, shrill tones that sometimes come from some traditional marriage supporters. Nor do I care for the confusion of Christianity and politics that sometimes emerges in these conversations. So I’m not altogether unsympathetic to Hatmaker’s concerns.

Having said that, I think it’s a mistake to respond to these frustrations by disengaging from the issue altogether. For a variety of reasons, this is not a debate that Christians are going to be able to opt-out of (see Owen Strachan’s excellent essay on this point). Instead of opting out as Hatmaker urges, I would suggest a different approach. Christians need to face this issue, but they need to do it in the right way with the right mindset. Here’s what I mean.

First, regardless of what’s happening in the culture wars, Christians must be clear about what the Bible teaches concerning human sexuality. As Christians, our first commitment is to the cause of Christ in the propagation of the gospel. Christ commissions his church to make disciples of every nation, and Christians cannot opt-out of this calling (Matt. 28:19-20). That means that we are in the business of calling sinners to repentance and faith so that they can be reconciled to God and inherit eternal life. But that task is undermined when sinners fall prey to the lie that their particular sin isn’t sin after all (1 John 1:10). And that is exactly what’s happening among Christians and churches all across the land. Younger evangelicals are less likely to hold the views of their parents on the issue of homosexuality (see here). There are simply many people—even some associated with the evangelical movement—who do not agree with the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality.

Where the Bible’s message is rejected, repentance and faith become impossible. Salvation passes by, and sinners remain unconverted.

To opt-out of the debate means to give free reign to the spirit of the age which would keep homosexual sinners blinded to their deepest spiritual need.

Second, Christians need to have a better understanding of their stewardship as citizens living in a democracy. We are not going to usher in the kingdom of God by getting the right laws passed or electing the “right” candidates. It doesn’t follow from that fact that Christians should withdraw from the process altogether. Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). That means that Christians must seek the good of their neighbor in the public space. Our neighbor’s good, however, is defined by God, not by our neighbor. That means that from time to time, Christians will love their neighbor by seeking his good even when our neighbor disagrees with what his good is. In the current debate, God defines the good when it comes to marriage. He defines what makes for the health and vitality of the family and the community. If you love your neighbor, then you will leverage your democratic privileges in favor of the Bible’s definition of the good of marriage.

Third, Christians are going to have to learn how to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). There are some people who act as if the truthfulness of what they are saying excuses the rudeness of how they are saying it. As Christians, we know that we are dying men speaking to dying men. We are supposed to live in the knowledge that we ourselves have been rescued from our own devices by the grace of God. We don’t have any grounds for haughtiness in our addresses to other sinners. We partake of Adam’s sin ourselves, and it ought to humble us in the manner in which we communicate. We must speak like Jesus did, whose opponents marveled at the gracious words that fell from his lips (Luke 4:22).

Fourth, we must resist the temptation of muting the Bible’s message simply because we think it will win more converts. That is not the pattern that Jesus modeled for us. Jesus spoke the truth in season and out of season. He never trimmed his sails to fit the prevailing winds of popular opinion, but was always willing to bring a confrontation when necessary (e.g., Matt. 3:7). If Jesus didn’t shrink back, neither should we. We must shine the light even when people run from it (John 3:20).

Again, Christians cannot hide in the basement on this debate. It is coming to us whether we want it to or not. The only question is whether or not we’ll be ready.”

-Denny Burk,

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