In part one I told you the story of a couple of gay New York hoteliers who met with Ted Cruz and were treated as a result to calls for a boycott and other harassments. This situation prompted me to ask two questions: What is wrong with us; and how do we get along on the issue of gay rights when there is no middle ground? In that first part, though, I didn’t take any time to explore actual answers to these. I would like to fix that now. I’ll treat them in order.
The first question, again, then is what is wrong with us. How have we reached a point culturally on this issue when one side views the other as not simply wrong, but as exemplary of the highest form of evil such that even sitting down for a meal with folks on the opposite side of the ideological divide is considered morally impermissible?
There are several reasons, but one that stands out as primary: our culture in general and the culture of the gay rights movement in particular have largely become unhinged from any semblance of the Christian worldview along with its prescriptions for ethical behavior.
I have never watched an episode of HBOs hit series Game of Thrones nor have I read any of the books that spawned the series. That being said, I have seen some discussions recently as to whether or not it is appropriate for Christians to watch the show which is infamously marked by rather gratuitous displays of both violence and nudity. There were opinions on both sides of the issue, but one that stood out to me was that the show offers viewers a great picture of what the Middle Ages in Europe would have looked like had there been no Christian faith to so alter the moral landscape.
You see, as a general rule, humans don’t much care for dissenting opinions. We tolerate them rather tepidly when we don’t have the power to stop them, but once we assume cultural power, we eliminate them. In the ancient world when a monarch was deposed, the new monarch would typically seek to kill all the family members of the former ruler in order to prevent any threats to the new order. Such displays of force usually served the purpose of consolidating power in the new leader and engendering the faithfulness of the military and civilian populations who reasoned it was better to follow the new guy than risk meeting the fate of the former.
The Christian worldview, however, calls for something very different from this. It calls for loving one’s enemies and tolerating their existence if not their particular worldviews. It demands showing grace and being kind to those who are not like us and who even oppose us because that’s how God our Father treats us. The Christian worldview — when practiced rightly — never forces, but always woos people to follow Jesus and take up the lifestyle of a disciple. For those who refuse, it honors and respects them as individuals created in the image of God, gently calls them to leave their sin behind while not creating contexts for them to continue in it, and humbly bears the ugly responses that often follow. Christians have by no means always practiced this and in fact when in positions of power have tended to the same excesses. But when practiced rightly, it is unfailingly transformative of whole cultures.
For the overwhelmingly non-Christian gay rights movement, this emphasis of loving our ideological opposites doesn’t exist. Indeed, no other worldview has produced a notion similar to Jesus’ command to love those who aren’t like us except as a copy of the original. Most worldviews have at least secretly considered the notion little more than folly. The natural thing to do is not to love enemies, but to destroy them. In the treatment afforded those who publicly oppose the gay rights agenda — and even to those who are willing to meet with those who do — this is exactly what we are seeing. Demanding that a business owner pay $135,000 in damages to a gay couple whose wedding cake they refused to bake and then bullying the website they used to request help in paying the fine into shutting the effort down is little more than an attempt to destroy the recognized opposition and demoralize the rest. The Christian worldview allows for freedom and a truly tolerant society. Everything else leads to some form of totalitarianism. What we are seeing are the early whispers of totalitarianism.
How about the second and arguably more important question of how we manage to get along when there’s no middle ground? This one’s admittedly trickier. Yet I believe there is a way, if not forward, at least not backwards. For followers of Jesus, we put into practice his command to love our enemies. We treat them with kindness. We show them respect. We honor the image of God they bear. We seek to do good to them. But, with gentleness, we refuse to participate in, condone, celebrate, or even allow contexts for sin to the extent we are able. And, we bear with humility the less-than-warm-and-fuzzy treatment we are likely to receive as a result of this. Let us make certain that the only offensive thing about us is the gospel we proclaim.
And when we get this down, we take it out to the world. Oh, you thought I was already talking about how we are to behave toward the unbelieving world around us? No, no, no. I was talking about how we treat each other in the church. See, this divide where each side considers the other to be holding a morally illegitimate view of the issue is as fully present in the church as it is in the culture. The church is just as sharply at odds over this issue as is the non-affirming church and the culture. If we can’t handle showing love to each other here, how can we possibly hope to do so out there? The simple truth is that we can’t.
We don’t agree on the matter of gay rights, on the matter of gay marriage, and more fundamentally on the matter of the morality of homosexual behavior. We don’t. There aren’t any signs that is going to change soon. And, there’s no middle ground. Either homosexual behavior is morally legitimate or it’s not. Either gay marriage is a morally legitimate expression of that ancient institution or it’s not. There’s no bridge to cross here because there’s no bridge. We are ideological opposites — folks normally just refer to that as being “enemies” — on this. Ours is not to judge the eternal status of folks on the other side, but to take them as they are and love them after the pattern of Christ. So let us love our enemies — even our enemies in the church — and keep in mind that if we are indeed brothers and sisters in Christ that loyalty comes before all others. By this, let us set an example for the broader culture which no longer has a worldview context to even understand much less practice this pattern by our demonstration that expressions of love don’t require a middle ground.
So how do we get along when there’s no middle ground? By letting love be the guiding rule.