During election years, we often see the melding of certain issues of morality and government. President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage several months ago and Chick-fil-A's recent opposition to gay marriage have made gay marriage a hot-button issue in this season of political debate. In my ministry, I have made a commitment to not engage the political or public policy debates surrounding homosexuality. As someone who seeks to walk with men and women who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions and as someone who seeks to share Jesus with the world in general, I find political debates distracting and frustrating.
While I have no desire to opine on the substance of the gay marriage debate, I do feel drawn to talk about the general response of Christianity to cultural shifts that go (or seem to go) against Christian Biblical values. It seems to me that we all have a tendency to get distracted by what might appear to be attacks on our faith. We like to be in the majority. We like culture to validate our faith. We like to be popular. Yet nothing in the Bible points to a Christian majority or cultural acceptance of our beliefs. And nothing in God's Word sets us up to be 'popular.'
Rather than sweeping majorities and popular influence and laws that line up with Scripture, we are promised to be odd, persecuted outcasts who leave all, die to all, endure all and serve all for the cause of Christ. We are not called to lead people to shiny churches designed to meet all their needs. We are called to lead people to the Way, and we are told that very few will actually walk through the narrow gate that is the life in Christ.
Western, cultural Christianity has distracted us. We have forgotten our calling. Our calling is not to clean up society. Our calling is not to overthrow government or legislate morality or tie tax and survivor benefits to the Biblical truth of marriage. Those things may not be bad in and of themselves, but in many ways, we have become distracted from our true call (to make disciples) and our true job (to be agents of reconciliation). Our job, as Christians, is to help reconcile a lost and disconnected world back into relationship with God through Christ. And now, as we slip further and further out of cultural acceptance and dominance, we are becoming scattered and unfocused. We are more concerned about sanitizing our world, instead of reaching the world with the amazing love of Jesus Christ. We are jumping through man-made hoops, instead of carefully navigating the narrow way of Christ.
Over the years we have gained power and cultural influence. Instead of standing out from culture, we began to fit comfortably in to culture. We faced little opposition to our bold assertions of our belief system. Our faith cost us nothing. In fact, here in the South, Christianity and church were entrees into business and society. As culture began to shift away from Judeo-Christian values, we began to react. In our reaction, we began to look less and less like Jesus. We began to assert our rights instead of understanding that Christianity stripped us of rights. We began to demand acceptance instead of graciously enduring rejection. Some of us fought to protect societal acknowledgement of our way of life. Others of us began to redefine our Christianity in the hope that society would accept something new and more palatable.
We, essentially, began to panic. And in our panic, we began to manipulate. We became legalistic and behavior-focused in order to scare people to our side. Or we became licentious and vague in an attempt to lure people to our side. In our manipulation, we lost our true message. We forgot that God is not concerned about whether a 'country' looks or acts Christian any more than He is concerned about whether a person looks or acts Christian. He is concerned about the hearts and souls of PEOPLE. And Jesus imparted to us HIS mission – His mission to connect lost and desperate and hurting people with God through Himself.
To be an agent of reconciliation we have to see value in our own reconciled relationship with God. We have to know the magnitude of what it means that we, fallen and broken and born through the sin of Adam, have the opportunity to be in relationship with the holy, pure, sovereign creator and God of the universe! And we have to know the joy and peace and fulfillment that come as a result of that relationship. We have to delight in our present relationship with God and we have to see at least a glimpse of the hope of what it promises to become. We have to know Jesus, too – not just know what He tells us to do and what not to do.
There is a very real possibility that many who claim to follow Christ will fall away as Christianity becomes less and less culturally acceptable. But as the ranks of professing Christians becomes smaller, my prayer is that our smaller numbers would become more focused on truly being salt and light to a crumbling and very dark world. What if instead of fighting against culture for our own rights, we began to fight for culture for culture's better good? What if instead of fighting for the world to validate us, we did what Jesus told us to do and turned the other cheek, gave them our shirt and loved those who hate and persecute us? What if we, with no strings attached, began to use our God-given gifts of leadership and creativity and finances and time to better public education, influence the arts, and care for the poor?
What if the world saw Christians really living differently? We have perhaps claimed a different moral standard, but have we really lived differently? Have we forgiven when the world says to seek revenge? Have we loved sacrificially and unconditionally when others have hated us? Have we honored and served our leaders even when they do not honor our beliefs? Have we shown mercy to those both deserving and undeserving of mercy? Have we fought for all people, even those whose lives are in great contrast to Biblical principles, to be treated with respect and dignity?
The Body of Christ stands before an open door of opportunity as the world moves further away from cultural Christianity. The door is open for amazing growth and amazing hope and amazing testimony. We don't follow Christ because we get tax benefits or because the 10 Commandments hang on the courthouse walls. We follow Christ because Christ is worthy of our following and because we desire to be part of the work He is doing all over the world. And, just maybe, we will see lives changed, rather than just the surfaces of lives. And all these issues that distract us will assume their proper place. And we, fully reconciled to the living God of the Universe, will succeed as God's agents to this world – walking others into the beauty that is the life reconciled to God through Christ.