Friday, June 26, 2015

The Great Debates: Gay Rights, Abortion, Obama the Muslim [?],and the Marriage between Conservative Politics and Conservative Christianity

Simply walking out the door in the morning puts one at risk of finding oneself in another totalitarian debate on the great issues facing our society, or at least the great issues American Conservative Christians believe are facing our American society.  Yesterday and today are no different.  I made the mistake of reading this Christianity Today article posted by a friend on her Fb page: 'Stop Explaining Away Black Christian Forgiveness', highlighting the media's curious response to the altogether Christian response of relatives and friends of the murdered Bible study attendees at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church.

Remembering the Murdered at Emanual AME Church in Charleston, SC

The article is worth a read and makes several significant points.  Then I made the mistake of reading the comments to my friends post, where I discovered another friend of mine said this:


I agree with this basic article.  But it suggests that Obama is a Christian.  I see no evidence of that, not fruit.  While he may not be a Muslim, he is also not a Christian.

Onesimus sometimes feels motivated to engage in some friendly back-and-forth on certain issues, and this is one of those times.  What follows is the conversation between me and my friend yesterday and today.  It will likely go on, as these sorts of debates never result in conversions.  But I thought it worthwhile to post here as it gives an example of just how wide is the divide on fundamental issues facing Christians, as well as the tremendous pressure Christians are under to conform to competing political agendas on both the right and the left.  The temptation to judge, to demonize and to accept hear-say as must-be makes such conversations all the more fraught.  My takeaway from the current disputation is that the risk of possessing a nullifying blindspot is so great that it would almost be better just to keep quiet.  Almost.  There also runs a corresponding risk that I might actually learn something from my debate partner, and that makes the exercise worth the risk of simply being confirmed in my own small-mindedness.

So here's how it's gone so far:


Onesimus:
But if we go by ‘fruit’, whose criteria are we to use?  Who’s to judge?  Besides, by that measure the rest of us are gong to have issues at the pearly gates, as our own records are, um, uneven at best.  I’m not sure my life measures up to all the different versions of what it means to be a ‘real’ Christian. ‘Lord have mercy on me a sinner’ is the only place I know to go on this one.

My Friend:
Bill, we have disagreed on this one before.  His support of abortion and of gay “marriage” are examples of agendas he advances zealously that, I believe, are clearly contrary to the Scripture.  He seems to identify more with Islam.  I’m not sure whether he is a Muslim, but I see fairly blatant things that suggest he is not a follower of Christ.  Perhaps you share his stances on these issues.  I just know he aggressively advances agendas that are clearly antithetical to the Gospel as I profess and he pursues that with zeal.

Is President Obama not a Christian because he supports gay rights
in the workplace and 'gay marriage'?

Onesimus:
We have disagreed.  And I think the point is worth pressing.  I just know that I live in a see of blatant, unrepentant materialists who claim to be (the right sort of) Christians and who think their idolatry is simply normal, for example.  When the log is removed from my own eye, then I might be able to see clearly to deal with what’s in my brother’s eye, so said someone significant.

My Friend:
It’s ok to disagree.  But just to be clear, I’m not talking about logs and specks.  I believe in the inerrancy of the Scripture.  Romans 2, in my interpretation and that of all the theologians I respect, prohibits homosexual practice.  Yet just this week OBAMA hosted a LGBT celebration at the White House.  In my mind and understanding [this is] glorifying sin.  Things that are clearly prohibited by the Scripture.  Likewise, the Scripture is clear about killing being a sin.  Yet, since Roe vs Wade, 55 million babies have been killed.  Just this week my president sent me an email about “reproductive rights” and decrying actions I applaud to do away with heinous late term abortions.  So, I can’t really buy that OBAMA is a Believer because he glorifies sin and works to codify it into law.  That you do not see this leads me to believe that you may agree with him on these issues.  I am an Anglican under the Rwandan church and we clearly support both the sanctity of life and of marriage.  My president does not.  These are not speck issues.  They are giant examples of wrong theology that the current administration is working tirelessly to make or retain as the law of this land.  About all I can say is “Lord have mercy on our godless government.


President Clinton signing the Welfare Reform Act in 1996.

Onesimus:
I totally respect your perspective.  And I respectfully disagree.  There is a significant difference between the secular United States of America, and the Anglican, Orthodox, RC and other churches.  As you know we don’t elect a pastor or priest of bishop in chief, we elect a president whose job is to defend the constitution.  Whatever else you may think of homosexuals, they have been discriminated against in the past and the courts have decided that they, like other minorities, should be given equal protection under the law.  Our current president appreciates this difference, as to I, as I have family member s who are gay and who have labored for decades in a society that has not treated them very well.  God did not make a covenant at Sinai with the uSA, and so the stipulations of the covenant are not applicable to us as a country, or any other society besides Israel, and even they could not keep their end of the covenant and brought upon their heads the covenant curses.  Christians, and Christian churches, however, are under obligation to keep the laws of the new covenant (Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself.), which is something altogether different.  This is a good thing, because as the psalmist says, ‘If You were to judge us [under the terms of the Sinai covenant], Lord, who could stand.’  BTW, none of the presidents since RvW have done a damn thing to undo legalized abortion, both democrats and republicans, and all of them have claimed to be Christians.  This does not make it right, but it does make it more complicated.  Moreover, the only time the abortion rate in this country ever decreased was under a democratic president, President Clinton of all people, whose welfare reform act actually addressed the situation many women find themselves facing and which thus gave some alternatives to killing their unborn babies.  The rest coming from candidates and presidents promising to do away with RvW has just been so much bloviating leading to nothing.  

March for Life in Washington, DC

It saddens me to see so much Christian hand-wringing over a tiny minority committing same-sex sin, when heterosexual adultery and divorce and abuse rampage our marriages in the church like a plague, not to mention the gross mortal sin of greed that has possessed American Christianity for decades.  A little humility on the part of us Christians before a world that has to deal with us as we really are would go a long way towards relieving us of the well-deserved charge of hypocrisy.  In my opinion.


******

Mercifully, Christians are becoming increasingly irrelevant in the political sphere (except when used by politicians looking for votes in Presidential primaries).  This means that eventually the corrosive and corrupting acid of political power will be decoupled from Christian engagement with the issues of our society.  We have long been persuaded that we Christians can make a difference in the great moral issues facing our land if we just elect the right people.  One would think that forty years of this game, and no end of politicians willing to co-opt gullible Christians into their own electoral ambitions and who then, surprise! do nothing to further Christian perspectives on said issues - one would think we would learn.  But evidently not, as we Christians of all persuasions are working ourselves into a lather (again) over the same issues, thinking that this time, this time surely we will see the political revolution that will 'turn our country around.'  But God's priorities are otherwise.  He's concerned more about mercy than about sacrifice, more about relationships than about movements, more about charity than financial success, more about the least of these than the greatest, the last than the first.  God's kingdom will not be a political one.  It will not be an economic one.  God's kingdom is instead a relational one, and the school of Christ, the hot house for this revolution is the Church.

Christians are right to be concerned about all the wrongs in our society.  But I don't think we will make any difference in our world until we start to live our call in the context of our local parishes and churches.  If we can't get it right there, then we don't deserve to take our show on the road.  It would seem, to this observer at least, that we have a ways to go before we are in any position to tell anyone else that they should get their house in order.


I certainly don't and won't have the last word, as I suspect my friend has got significant things to add. I welcome your comments.  Please keep them respectful, otherwise the censor will have to do his thing.


Update #1

As I suspected, the conversations continues.


My Friend
Bill, I, too, have friends that are gay.  I also have friends that have been rescued from the homosexual lifestyle and walk in holiness.  So I do not buy the God-made-me-gay argument.  I believe the same power that raised Jesus from the dead can give men the ability to walk in holiness.  The pull of sin is so great that I fully understand how it feels like no choice.  Yet I can cit numerous examples of men who daily choose not to submit to a homosexual lifestyle.  I fully agree that adultery is a great problem in the church.  But, homosexuals build their identity on what I believe is sin.  Their life is a monument to sin.  I do not know adulterers that build their life on the foundation of adultery.  But regarding civil rights for gays, I would contend that our government treats homosexuals as a protected class at the cost of denying civil rights to others, particularly Bible believing Christians.  After the Supreme Court denigrates marriage by claiming same sex couples can marry, Christian ministers will be forced to marry gay couples or face jail.  The pastors I know are preparing themselves for that.  That, of course, is not America that once stood for freedom, it is akin to Nazi Germany.  You may say that these are not the implications of this redefinition.  But it is, in my thinking, just another descent of America and I believe the signs of such moral decline indicates that we are approaching the end times.  Apparently we both call ourselves Christians but have widely different views of what that looks like.  I simply do not buy the view that Christians are to only be tolerant of sin and not call it out.  Jesus called out sin on many occasions.  Therefore it is authentic for His followers to do the same.

Onesimus
Which is, ironically, what I am doing here.  I think you can be relieved that we actually line up on the same side of all most of the issues you have enumerated above.  [And as an Orthodox Christian, I suspect I’m actually more conservative than you, theologically speaking!]  Where I suspect we disagree is on the role of government as enforcer of Christian values.  Every time governments have taken on this role in the entire history of the Church, it has not ended well for the gospel (how’s that for a sweeping claim!)  And the Church has actually often been at its best when, even with all its internal challenges, it has had to live the gospel in the midst of a hostile social, political and economic context.  The early church (through 312 AD at least) was never in a position to enforce its views on anyone.  And they suffered greatly through the spasmodic persecutions that periodically bloodied the Churches’ witness.  And they weren’t perfect.  But the people around them respected them for their love, for their willingness to suffer for Christ, for their charity.  And the Roman world was well on its way to becoming Christian as a result.  I personally think that we Christians need a serious rethink of how we engage with the pagans and sinners who surround us.  That’s why I think Jesus’ example is so revolutionary and counter-cultural.  He resists judging the terrible sinners of his day at every opportunity.  But notice he doesn’t hesitate to call out the religious and political conservatives of Judaism for the hypocrites that they were.  We conservatives today are in danger of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, iIf we haven’t done so already.  And I’m not sure I want to be identified with that crowd when we all have to stand before the Lord and that coming last day.  Why do we think that a posture, a stance vis a vis the world that has served us so miserably will somehow miraculously work when we take it up again this time?  Fulminating against their sin has not worked with homosexuals, nor has it worked with abortionists, nor has it worked with the pornographers, nor has it worked with the thieves, murderers, drunkards, drug abusers, extortionists, cheaters, bullies and whatever sinner one wishes to add to the list.  The only thing this posture has done is made us Christians feel better than/superior to the rest of the sinful riff raff around us.  But nobody out there is listening to us Christians, nor should they (because of the a-fore mentioned hypocrisy).  But the engine of self-righteousness is so seductive, so powerful, so ennobling, we have lost sight of who we are.  Are we not sinners? Saved by God’s mercy?  Our churches are meant to be hospitals for reprobates like me.  But look what we’ve made almost all of them into – museums of the holy.  And who wants that?  Who needs that?  Theological rightness is a beautiful thing when it’s illumined by love.  But theological rightness means nothing if we don’t have this love thing down.  St. John rather pointedly declares that the person who claims to love God and yet does not love her/his brother, is simply a liar.  The greatest sin, it turns out, is not homosexuality, or abortion, or being a democrat; it’s the choice not to love.  Everything evil in our society flows from that.  And we Christians are too often leading the wrong parade on this one..