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A Civil War Between the Church and the Gay Community?

Its not often I come upon an article (or series) which, (a) I completely agree with, and (b) I highly recommend  to others without at least a few reservations. This is one.

( HT to Joel for pointing to this excellent essay by Jason A. Staples)

A Civil War Between the Church and the Gay Community? Part (1)

In the wake of the Supreme Court refusing to hear a case challenging the Washington, DC law recognizing gay marriages, DC pastor Anthony Evans has declared a “civil war between the church and the gay community“:

“[W]hat the Supreme Court has set up is the greatest civil war between the church and the gay community,” Evans said. “And let me just state for the record, we don’t want that fight. We love our gay brothers and sisters. But if the Supreme Court is not going to acknowledge the fact that we have a right as religious people to have a say-so in the framework of religious ethics for our culture and society, then we reject the Supreme Court on this issue.”

Wow. There’s so much wrong here it’s hard to know where to start. Evans complains that the Supreme court had denied “religious people” the right “to have a say so in the framework of religious ethics,” but that’s not what’s under discussion at all. On the contrary, the court decision concerns the question of secular legality, not religious ethics. That is to say, morality and legality in a secular society are two different domains, though there is certainly overlap…  But the Supreme Court had nothing whatsoever to say about Evans’ (or anyone else’s) right to declare an action immoral within a given framework of religious ethics. This conflation of political and religious spheres has become an increasingly visible problem in the political arena over the past thirty years (tracing at least to the beginning of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” and the rise of “dominion theology,” (which I’ll address later), a conflation that rests on a misunderstanding both of the foundations of US government and early Christian theology. (continue reading here)

A Civil War Between the Church and the Gay Community? Part 2

In Part One, we looked at how Washington, DC, pastor Anthony Evans’ declaration that the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a case challenging the DC gay marriage law had “set up … the greatest civil war between the church and the gay community” reflected common misunderstandings of the foundations of US government. Today, we’ll look at things from the other side: the Christianity witnessed in the New Testament categorically rejects any conflation of the church (or the Kingdom of God) with a nation or government on this present earth. Any attempt to connect the government and the church misunderstands an essential part of the early Christian message.

Jesus, when his kingship was questioned, responded, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The beginning of Acts portrays the disciples asking the resurrected Jesus, “Will you now restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). The rest of Acts shows that this question misunderstood the nature of the kingdom—the kingdom was indeed to be restored to Israel, but not in an earthly sense. Rather, Jesus was to rule his kingdom from his throne in the heavens, separate from and above every earthly government. Only at his return would that change. When Revelation depicts the cooperation of religion and the state, the results are horrifying—and really bad news for the church (cf. Rev 13:11–18; 17–18).

Unfortunately, these warnings have been largely ignored over the past two thousand years. In the United States, the last few decades have witnessed the rise of postmillennial “dominion” theologies, which teach that God has commanded and authorized the church to establish the kingdom of God on earth, at which point Christ will return to claim his kingdom.

(There are actually two separate strands of this teaching, one tying more closely to Reformed “Reconstructionism” and another coming out of the Charismatic Movement, but the end result of Christian “dominion” on the earth is the same in each.) Such dominion-style teaching is by no means new, and it is instructive to note that an older strain of this “Christ has commanded and authorized us to take dominion of the world in his name” teaching produced such outstanding fruit as the Holy Roman Empire, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition. (Plus various reigns of terror—like that of the murderous John Calvin in Geneva—during and after the Reformation.)

It is critically important that we realize that these atrocities were not committed by “monsters” bent on doing what they knew to be wrong; on the contrary, these things were done by people with good intentions, men who believed God to be on their side. (As John 16:2 warns, “An hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is serving God.”) In fact, as C.S. Lewis observes, it is not the sadist who is most to be feared but the person who commits atrocities thinking it’s the right thing to do.

My contention is that good men (not bad men) consistently acting upon that position would act as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants. They might in some respects act even worse. Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. … The practical problem of Christian politics is not that of drawing up schemes for a Christian society, but that of living as innocently as we can with unbelieving fellow-subjects under unbelieving rulers who will never be perfectly wise and good and who will sometimes be very wicked and very foolish. (“The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”)

I should add at this point that such cruelty for the sake of the victim does not require belief in God at all but only a misguided sense of one’s own morality and a supreme confidence that one is in the right. Leninism, for example, had no supernatural deity but its oppression was exercised with a thorough confidence that all was being done for the good of the people—leading to millions of murders. Christianity, insofar as it follows Jesus, contains an antidote for this with the “take the speck out of your own eye first” command, demanding self-examination and purification before ever trying to help another. At any rate, given the dangers of nationalism (which led to the two world wars of the 20th Century), it is especially dangerous if a populace comes to think of itself as “God’s special nation.”  (continue reading here)

A Civil War Between the Church and the Gay Community? Part 3

In terms of sexual behavior at large, the church’s standard is certainly to be different from that of the surrounding culture—though a strong church will certainly impact the culture’s standards. But the important point is that this impact is most powerful when it comes through the witness of Christians successfully living up to the standards of the gospel while simultaneously proclaiming its demands—that is, “by the foolishness of preaching.”

Israel was chosen to be God’s special people among the nations, but this was not through becoming a great empire but by being an example among the nations, impressing non-Israelite nations with the faithfulness and justice (non-arbitrariness) of their God. Jesus’ life serves as the ultimate example of this principle that power is flexed from the bottom up, not from the top down. The church’s influence must come through service and proclamation, not by force of legislation.

Again, the moment a church looks to and relies upon secular legislation to achieve its aims, it declares its spiritual bankruptcy.

This is not to say that Christians are to have no involvement in public policy or lawmaking. Quite the contrary, in a society in which Christians have enough influence to hold office, they should strive to enact and enforce just laws, but the point is that there will always be a distinction between the laws of the nation and the imperatives of the church/gospel. Paul makes this clear enough in 1 Corinthians 5, where he is dealing with (wait for it…) sexual ethics. After thoroughly rebuking the church for not appropriately handling a situation of sexual immorality among its members and telling them to expel the offending member from fellowship, Paul explains,  (continue reading here)

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