This week I had four conversations that led into discussions about the church and same-sex marriage. The first was with a group of pastors who were asking how we should approach the potential implications of the DC City Council’s actions for the church. The second was with a Christian brother asking about how to build a church-state theology that reflects Baptists’ historical position on freedom of religion. The third was within a conversation on the Manhattan Declaration and how we should view partnerships for the sake of public morality. The fourth concerned whether or not my church plant could join the ELCA church from whom we are renting space in making Christmas cards – at the ELCA church’s request – to give to residents of a local nursing home. The concern is that making cards with the ELCA church would detour us off Reformation doctrine to the road of the slippery slope.
I hope that I have sure enough footing in my Christian faith and theology that I can make a Christmas card without going down the theological slippery slope. I am certain that I can write, “Wishing you a Merry Christmas,” without communicating, “I agree with the positions of the ELCA, including the ordination of women and homosexuals.” (Let me be clear that I am not sure where our host church sits on the latter issue. However, since their pastor is female, I know where they sit on the former issue. Yet, I am preaching Christ every Sunday in their facility and holding firmly to the Five Solas; I pay my rent check and preach Christ. My church has a great working relationship with our host.) Signing the Manhattan Declaration for the sake of preserving life and marriage might seem like a more significant issue to many of you. Believe me when I say it is no more significant to the people of my congregation than is maintaining a proper, discerning, Gospel-affirming relationship with our host church. The issues are quite similar for me as a pastor.
In the short space of a blog post, I cannot formulate or communicate a robust theology of the public square. (May I suggest instead, after the Scriptures, consider the works of Wells, Carson, Gaede, and Guinness.) However, the Apostle Paul understood the dangers of an uncritical theology of social, civil, and religious pluralism, and Luke records that he still was able to make the following decisions:
1. He could join the Jewish believers in Jerusalem in the Nazarite Vow and pay for their related ceremonial fees without compromising the Gospel message to the Gentiles (Acts 21:17-26). Paul made a social compromise for the sake of keeping the Gospel from being spoken as something that was against the cultural customs of the Jews.
2. He could speak Aramaic to Jews and Greek to Gentiles so as not to be mistaken either as one who disrespected the temple or a riot starter (which would have discredited the Gospel message he preached; Acts 21:27-22:29). Paul could live as a “dual citizen” without denial of the Gospel (22:6-21). Paul’s dual citizen-theology kept him from being perceived as one harmful to society by both groups. When he was finally rejected, it was over the issue of preaching to the Gentiles, not of preaching against the Temple.
3. He could identify with his heritage as a Pharisee rather than focusing on theological matters over which he could disagree with the Pharisees. This brought the Pharisees to become supporters of Paul rather than continue as his detractors (at least in this one instance; Acts 22:30-23:11). Paul could do this without denying the resurrection. In fact, his choices kept the Gospel message moving to Rome through him (23:11).
Paul’s crafty public square theology involved making cultural compromise, living wisely in both Jewish and Roman societies (akin to one living like a citizen of two kingdoms), and finding a means to identify with his religious detractors on an agreeable point of theology for the sake of the Gospel. Luke’s record of Paul’s example is to be followed by the church. Paul did not forsake the Gospel while taking the Nazarite Vow, calming the Jews, correcting the Romans, or finding solidarity with the Pharisees. I think Paul could have signed the Manhattan Declaration for the sake of the Gospel—so that our message – the message of Christ – would not be perceived as anti-cultural even though it is counter-cultural. You are free to disagree.
At Cranach: The Blog of Veith, Gene Veith asks “why do gays come across better than their Christian critics?” I find his thoughts to have significance to the “to sign or not to sign” question surrounding the Manhattan Declaration and how our actions in debates of public discourse are perceived. Veith:
Consider Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank’s account of a rally against the hate-crime bill:
Conservative Christian ministers from across the land, determined to test the bounds of a new law punishing anti-gay hate crimes, assembled outside the Justice Department on Monday to denounce the sin of homosexuality and see whether they would be charged with lawbreaking.
Anything other than sex “between a male and his wedded wife,” announced the Rev. Paul Blair, “is a perversion, and the Bible says that homosexuality is in fact an abomination.”
No arrest was made.
The Rev. Rick Scarborough, quoting Scripture, listed “homosexual offenders” along with thieves, drunkards, swindlers and idolators as those unwelcome in the kingdom of God. “To fail to call homosexuals to repent of their sin and come to Jesus is the highest form of cowardice and sin,” he said.
No charges were filed.
“Had people listened to our plea, there would be tens of thousands of people who had not died of a dreaded disease,” contributed the Rev. Jim Garlow. “This breaks our heart to see people die of AIDS.”
No hands were cuffed. In fact, the few cops in attendance were paying no attention to the speakers, instead talking among themselves and checking their BlackBerrys.
The evangelical activists had been hoping to provoke arrest, because, as organizer Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission put it, “we’d have standing to challenge the law.” But their prayers were not answered. Nobody was arrested, which wasn’t surprising: To run afoul of the new law, you need to “plan or prepare for an act of physical violence” or “incite an imminent act of physical violence.”
Instead of getting arrested, the ministers got something else: A couple of dozen gay activists, surrounding them with rainbow flags and signs announcing “Gaga for Gay Rights” and “I Am a Love Warrior.” By the end, the gay rights activists had taken over the lectern and the sound system and were holding their own news conference denouncing the ministers.
“We’re here to say, my love is legit!” announced David Valk, an organizer of the National Equality March for gay rights.
It goes on in this vein, lauding the gays who took over the podium and praising the rental company that let them use the equipment and making fun of the Christians.
Here is my question: Why do the Christian protesters come off so badly, while the gay protesters come across so well? Is it just the bias of the author? Or are the Christian conservatives just being ineffective while the gays know how to protest effectively?
I think we should try to answer Veith’s question. I will take comments at this blog. Let’s leave Dr. Veith alone. He is Lutheran.
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