When the Supreme Court struck down bans on gay marriage several weeks ago, I wrung my hands for exactly zero seconds. The outcome was expected, and it was the correct legal outcome.
I do not believe it was the correct moral outcome, but it was the correct legal outcome.
I am purposely making that distinction because it is an important one. A very important one.
I am not like some within the Christian Church.
I do not believe the U.S. is the new Israel or new Jerusalem.
I do not believe the U.S. is a Christian nation. It could be argued well that it never has been.
I do not believe we can transform the U.S. into the kingdom of God.
I do not believe it is the Church's job to impose morality through the use of the law.
I believe that well-meaning Christians have tried to impose morality and justice and other such things by the use of the law; however, while managing to get laws passed, it has simply driven certain behaviors into hiding where they lurk until striking out. (See, Roof, Dyllan and racism) The changing of laws do not change human hearts.
The Civil Rights Movement
I do want to take a moment to talk about the importance of the Church working in society for its betterment. I am the father of two bi-racial girls. I hazard to think about what their lives would have been like 60 years ago or so. I hazard to imagine them being required to drink out of separate water fountains and sit apart from the rest of our family because of asinine laws like Jim Crow. I am most certainly glad those things are outlawed!!
And I am thankful that the thrust of power that came to overturn those unjust laws came through the Black Churches in our nation. For certain, there were many involved in the process of other religious faiths and traditions, but those represented a minority. The public figures of the Civil Rights Movement were pastors, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was, of course, the chief figurehead.
King's genius was not simply his passion for non-violence, but also his willingness to call a nation that considered itself Christian to account. In his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," King basically said, "You know, you say that you are Christian. You say that you follow the Bible. Why are you not following its basic principles of justice, fairness, and equality?" It was and is a fantastic letter.
An appeal to such a collective conscience is a master-stroke of genius, and it worked! It worked brilliantly!!! To change the laws. And to change behaviors.
But it did not change the hearts and minds of many. Perhaps this is where the Civil Right's Movement failed. For the prejudice that was overtly embodied in Jim Crow Laws and segregation was now driven deep into people's hearts. And it hasn't gone away at all.
So, should another similar movement be staged today? Do more laws need to be changed to prevent covert racism? Should the Church strive for such a thing in this current climate?
I am highly suspect of trying to accomplish such a thing, because the climate of the U.S. has changed and changed dramatically.
A View Backward to Go Forward
The Christian Church is one of the more unique institutions in the global scheme. 90% of Muslims live in the Middle East and Africa. 90% of Hindus live in India. 90% of Buddhists live in Asia. Only Christianity is evenly distributed throughout the globe. Christianity has been able to survive under all sorts of governments and rulers--even those that severely persecuted the Church. In a rather head scratching note, the more the Church is persecuted, the more it seems to grow and thrive.
Part of the reason for this, I am convinced, is that Christianity grew up in a hostile culture. It clashed with its parent religion of Judaism and also with the surrounding Roman Empire. It proclaimed that Jesus was God--anathema to Jews and subversive to Romans. In both cases, the death penalty could be sought for adherents (for blasphemy or for subverting the rule of Caesar).
Yet, despite the danger, one does not see anywhere in the early Church petitions to the governments to legalize Christianity. One does not see the apostle Paul standing before governors and asking them to change the law. No. Paul seeks to convert. Paul seeks to bring people to Jesus Christ and then allow the power of God to transform those hearts and minds.
It's a far cry from how the Church tends to operate in the U.S. today. For a brief time, the U.S. adopted our ethical framework when making decisions. For a brief time, we could count on people being in and understanding what it meant to have a Christian ethical framework. At one time most of the U.S. had a Christian worldview, but there has been a divorce.
Ethics are no longer rooted in God.
The source and norm for ethics in the U.S. is the Constitution, and the ethical moorings of the Constitution are...
An Ethical Hodgepodge
Reason according to some.
"Do whatever makes you happy as long as you hurt no one," according to others.
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," according to more.
"Truth is what we make it; truth is relative," according to others.
We have no agreed upon ethical basis for defining truth, justice, happiness, or the like. We have no system of ethics underpinning our national discussion. In fact, what very often happens is a clash between ethical systems without folks even aware that such systems are clashing.
The results can be quite confusing and disheartening. People are quick to hurl insults toward each other. Oppressed becomes oppressor. The opposition gets vilified. We cry out "do unto others as you would have them do unto you!" But the practice ends up being "do unto others as I think should be done unto them."
Lord, save us.
Thank God, He has.
Which is why I haven't done any hand wringing.
A Christian Ethical Framework
You see, the Christian ethical framework seeks the will of God. Believing that God has indeed revealed His will to us, we earnestly believe we should seek it out. However, when we discover what that will is, we know it is impossible to uphold. We know we can never live up to it.
Think about this in your own life at this point. Most of us have a certain standard of how we expect others to live. Do we live up to our own standard? Recently, in a discussion, I pointed out that a gentleman called out Christians for being judgmental was himself making a judgement against Christians. Fortunately, he was of the thinking sort and realized exactly what he was doing. "It must be a condition of humanity," he said. I heartily agree. A condition we cannot save ourselves from. We need a Savior.
That Savior, according to Christianity, is Jesus who lived the life we were supposed to live--loving God and loving neighbor as self completely; and He died the death we deserved upon the cross--paying the penalty for our disobedience and inability to fulfill God's will. Jesus did this while we were still sinners--undeserving of such radical love.
To understand that we do not fulfill the will of God...
To understand that we do not deserve God's love and acceptance...
To understand that it was given to us at great cost to God...
Humbles a heart. It takes away pride in any sort of moral accomplishment one may perceive. It allows one to see one's own brokenness. One still seeks God's will, but then understand that God's will includes loving others as we were loved--broken people loving other broken people. This is done no matter what kind of government sits in power--or what kind of ethical framework is embraced by the surrounding culture.
Gay marriage is legal.
Two consenting adults having sexual relations is legal.
Selling a rock as a pet is legal.
Making millions of dollars without sharing is legal.
Consuming alcohol to excess is legal.
Yelling at your spouse is legal.
Calling someone an a$$hole is legal.
Looking at a woman with lust is legal.
Doesn't mean any of those things are moral, but instead of pointing fingers and decrying the immorality of others, I believe Christians are called to roll up their sleeves and do some very hard work--very hard work--seek conversion of others to the Christian worldview. To seek the change of heart and not simply the change of law.
The Need for Government
There is no doubt that we need government and we need just laws. Without government and laws, society falls into anarchy. There is also no doubt that Christians need to be involved in politics. We have a duty to work for the welfare of our neighbor (How that gets played out is oftentimes a point of contention, granted.). I cannot imagine the Church standing idly by while injustice is perpetrated upon people.
And the Church is indeed guilty of both standing by and perpetrating injustice upon people. We have only to look into our history at the times when the Church held power (middle ages) or--for the most part--walked hand in hand with those in power (Nazi Germany). In both of these cases, great tragedy befell minorities as the vast majority of Christians supported or turned a blind eye to injustice.
I believe this happens when the Church aligns itself with the structures of power within a given nation. Therefore, the Church must maintain a critical distance without becoming disengaged. The Church must have a voice within the public square without aligning itself with any group seizing power. The Church must be a powerful voice without seeking power itself. And, oh and this is the tricky part--the Church must not be swayed to endorse any seeking power because of a promise of favorable legislation.
It is far too tempting to allow ourselves to endorse certain candidates who promise action on particular issues to win our votes. An appeal to our own desire of power and getting what we want through legislation can be very, very tempting. However, I think that this does great damage to our primary calling--to proclaim Jesus and not the Law.
"For the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of seeds, but when planted it becomes a tree so large the birds of the air long to build their nests within."
The Kingdom of God begins with the seed of the Gospel in our hearts. It grows as more and more hearts are tuned to God--not to the Laws of a nation. And the Gospel roots out evil intentions, hatred and prejudice--the very root causes of hatred and division within our species. But it all begins with the change of heart--the primary focus, I believe of spreading the Gospel--of changing another's worldview.
Not an easy task, but the one mission the Church was given straight from the one who died for the world.