Recently, the news has been tough for Christians here at home. Stories involving the erosion of religious liberty in America, as in the failure in Indiana to protect the rights of business persons who don't wish to participate in same-sex weddings, have persuaded some that the chips are not only down but depleted.
As a result, some Christians seem to be heralding cultural defeat and advocating a gracious concession to the other side. They urge us, in as many words, to reduce our witness to acts of private charity and church ministry.
Not so fast. First, one never wins an argument he doesn't make. And as Americans, to relinquish our rights of religious and speech freedom, redress of grievance, court action to defend those being targeted, voting for candidates who will stand for our beliefs and work to infuse them in legislation, etc., we would be demonstrating contempt not only for those who won those freedoms for us – often at the cost of their lives – but we would be telling a merciful God that these political gifts of His are no longer worth employing or stewarding.
How unfaithful, how cowardly, and how unloving! Christians are called to embody grace and truth in all areas of our lives, private, public, and professional. Detaching from our conjoint witness of Christ's mercy and righteousness in any of these spheres would be sordid and an offense to God and man.
Shall we fight with great kindness and mercy in our hearts, words, and actions? Most surely. Otherwise, we would wield the sword of truth but would do so with severity and chastisement. We should never use the "sword of the Spirit, the Word of God" (Ephesians 6) so clumsily as to wound wantonly or destroy with vengeance. Our enemies are not people but wrong ideas, legal coercions, judicial repressions, wayward movements, and false theological teaching.
But swords cut, and sometimes in our proclamation of truth – even when such proclamation is animated by love in motive and characterized by love in tone - people will become angry, even hateful. The periodic death-threats we receive at FRC are grim cases in point.
We must never forsake truth in order to seem pleasant, as if a warm smile will always and alone soften a cold heart. The most gracious Man Who ever lived was hated and murdered. Point made.
I am posing these rather stark alternatives because some in our community seem so addicted to a gospel of "grace über alles" that they are quick to judge – indeed, to pounce upon - any fellow believer who says something a bit untampered.
Should such coarse comments be celebrated? No. But should the watchdogs of the Evangelical intelligentsia be so ready to disparage Christian leaders who make them whenever there is a mis- or over-statement? I think not. The excessive eagerness to distance oneself from someone who occasionally says something a bit sour is more reflective of pride than grief. Having more than once succumb to this impulse in past years, I know whereof I speak.
When Christians, and Christian leaders, say things that are sharp and unedifying, we all cringe. Yet we shouldn't use such things as a pretext for spurning those leaders. I wonder if their Evangelical critics have ever met or talked with leaders they find hurtful or whose language they find embarrassing.
Additionally, to issue blanket judgments on all who stand and fight in the public square or to call for the suctioning-away of public activism from our portfolio of Gospel witness is an abrogation of faithfulness to that Gospel.
And sometimes grace goes much too far: Being winsome has its limits. Recently Canadian commentator Jonathan Von Maren wrote some perceptive and relevant lines about "niceness" in social reform movements:
Because Martin Luther King Jr., and William Wilberforce, and Lewis Hine, are all considered heroes now, we forget that in their day, they were often widely despised and hated. King and the Civil Rights activists endured a level of physical violence that pro-lifers can scarcely imagine. Wilberforce's abolitionists were regularly threatened, and his right-hand man Thomas Clarkson was once nearly thrown off the docks in Liverpool by angry slave traders. Lewis Hine, the photographer who displayed pictures of child laborers, was opposed by the forces of American industry who despised him for his exposure of their brutal practices … They suffered much ridicule, hatred, and even violence as the result of that. All of them were warned that their tactics would not succeed because they were controversial, or divisive, or "not nice." But they recognized that without confronting the culture, they would never change the culture.
These men were, if not always happy warriors, still generally good-hearted toward their foes. But not always – yet we (rightly) honor them for bringing moral bravery, prophetic allegiance to truth, and personal kindness to their work.
Can we ever justify crass conduct or language in the name of truth-telling? Does the urgency of the issue ever permit personal hostility or demeaning comments about individuals or groups? No, resoundingly no. But let us bear in mind that there is no love in moral compromise, that there is no sweet reasonableness in theological heresy, and that there is no ground for joy in light's fawning fellowship with darkness.
From a strictly practical standpoint, there is also much good news; here's a sampling:
- A lesbian in Indiana contributed money to a pizza shop owner who said she would not cater a same-sex wedding after activists threatened the shop and the family that runs it. "As a member of the gay community, I would like to apologize for the mean spirited attacks on you and your business. I know many gay individuals who fully support your right to stand up for your beliefs and run your business according to those beliefs. We are outraged at the level of hate and intolerance that has been directed at you and I sincerely hope that you are able to rebuild," wrote Courtney Hoffman. In total, Memories Pizza received more than $840,000 in on-line donations and, reports say, is planning to re-open.
- In a recent interview on the outstanding Podcast, "Michael Easley: In Context," former practicing homosexual Matt Moore tells of his journey from what he calls "a hopeless way of life" and says he now "greatly desires, through his writing, to help the gay community see the world and themselves from a biblical perspective and to know the hope that is available to them in Christ." Matt now attends a seminary and hopes to serve as a pastor. He also has begun a serious relationship with a young Christian woman.
- The Oklahoma Senate has approved a 72-hour waiting period before a woman seeking an abortion can receive one. Wisconsin's attorney general is working to reverse a court ruling against laws designed to protect women's health and safety in abortion clinics. And long-time pro-life champion Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has enacted legislation to prevent dismemberment abortions in his state.
We don't know the final chapter of any of these stories. Or our country's future. Or of our own lives. But there's One Who does. He's worth serving, His truth is worth upholding, and His grace is worth sharing. Knowing these things are surer than the turning of the earth, let's not grow weary.
This column originally appeared in Christian Headlines.