Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states. Many Christians are feeling conflicted—we want to love our neighbors, avoid being judgmental, and be true to the gospel. How do we balance all that? Above all, let’s respond in a way that reflects Jesus, who came to us “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “Grace” means we carry ourselves with humility, respect, and patience toward one another, knowing that we are all highly flawed. “Truth” means we seek to understand and courageously uphold what is just and right as defined by our Creator. As we seek this Jesus-like balance, here are some thoughts to guide us:
Our Countercultural-ness. Up until recently, you could be a committed Christian and blend into mainstream American culture pretty well. That’s been changing rapidly. Certain cultural shifts have made the biblical sexual ethic seem at best strange, and at worst harmfully repressive. “But wait!” you say, “Christianity is not about sexual ethics; it’s about Jesus!” Very true, but Jesus called his followers to humbly submit every aspect of life (vocational, financial, relational, and, yes, sexual and marital) to God’s will. And now, suddenly, adhering to the historic Christian faith make us cultural misfits. So each of us who claims the name of Christ must decide: are we okay with this? It’s obviously not fun, but are we okay with following Jesus even if it means social ridicule and possibly tangible loss if we refuse to conform to certain views? In short, are we resolved to please God rather than people?
Remember that for the majority of history, in most places, being a Christian has been countercultural. Back in the first century, Peter addressed his readers as “aliens and strangers,” whose true citizenship lay beyond this world. Suddenly, New Testament teachings like this have become more personal for us. Just as first-century Christians weren’t surprised and panicked when Roman laws didn’t reflect their Christian values, neither should we (although we should work to build consensus that leads to a more just society wherever we can). And despite the stress all this brings, here’s the encouraging thing: the Christian faith has historically thrived in such conditions. Jesus has been relentlessly building his church in all kinds of hostile surroundings, and he has no intention of stopping now.
Be assured that even as our culture’s views change, Jacksonville Chapel will continue to uphold biblical marriage. As much as we respect and love those desiring to enter into same-sex marriage, we cannot in good conscience participate in such ceremonies. Thankfully, for now, our government will not compel us to violate our conscience in this matter, and we have ensured that our church’s Bylaws protect us from legal action in this area. As we are confronted with requests to officiate same-sex weddings—which we surely will be in the days ahead—let’s commit to an ongoing posture of grace and truth.
Our Attitude. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says our conversation with those who don’t share our faith should be “always full of grace” (Colossians 4:5-6). Think about that for a minute: even as we seek to balance grace and truth, we should lead with grace. In other words, we are called to go overboard with our gentleness, humility, patience, kindness and respect. More than anyone else does, we should genuinely seek to understand the journeys of our gay and lesbian friends. Are we listening? Do we actually care about them? Really? We may differ with them on this one issue, but at the core we are all wounded, imperfect people who desperately need to be loved. Jesus’ brother, James, reminds us that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2); shame on us if we are blind to our own stumbling as we recoil at the stumbling of others.
This attitude of grace and love should be felt in our church family. I dream of our church being a place where it’s safe for people to wrestle with sexual identity issues—because they know they’ll be listened to and cared for and treated with confidentiality. I want us to be a place where it’s safe for parents whose kids are wrestling with sexual identity—because they know they won’t be judged or avoided or given trite answers. I want us to be people who are informed on the scientific research as well as being well-versed in the Bible’s teaching, so we can minister with wisdom and discernment. I want us to be a place where, even when people may strongly disagree with us, they have no doubt that we love them.
Our Example. And finally, let’s be known not for what we oppose, but for what we support: strong, enduring marriages between men and women who sacrificially serve and unconditionally love one another. Our church should be a place that nurtures and celebrates these beautiful, covenant relationships which reflect the union of Christ and his church. Thankfully, the Chapel is blessed with many marriages like this…but we frankly have some work to do here. As one of our staff members put it recently, “How can we tell others that gay marriage is wrong and biblical marriage is right when, within the church, spouses are abusing each other, having affairs, turning to pornography, and getting divorced? We need to do better.” I couldn’t agree more. How can we start doing better?
One place to start is by heeding the advice of Kevin Miller, a pastor in Illinois. He talks about developing “a culture of consistent sexual sacrifice,” meaning that all Christians—not just those with same-sex attraction—are called to sacrifice in order to honor God with their sexuality. Whether we sacrifice our desire to indulge in an affair, pornography, sex outside marriage, selfish treatment of a spouse, or same-sex relationships, the path to flourishing under God’s blessing always involves sacrifice. And the only way we’ll walk that path is to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith—who endured the greatest sacrifice for us.
As we enter this uncharted territory, let’s not make the mistake of withdrawing from our culture. Two thousand years ago Jesus could have saved himself a trip, but he loved us so much that he chose to enter our world, full of grace and truth. Let’s engage with our world humbly and courageously, just as Jesus did. And let’s avoid the other extreme of becoming exactly like the world, indiscriminately adopting the culture’s latest ethics. With God’s help, let’s do the hard, prayerful, sacrificial work of balancing grace and truth in all that we do. No matter how much our culture changes, join me in praying that Jacksonville Chapel will continue to represent Jesus well.