.The Church and Prop 8: Losing by Winning

TOWNSEND, Massachusetts – In spite of this week’s setback in the California courts, legal approval for same-sex marriage is building steam. The domino theory many right wingers and religious conservatives worried about when Massachusetts turned in favor of same sex marriage five years ago is becoming reality.

Besides the Bay State, same-sex marriage is now law in Vermont, Iowa, Maine, and Connecticut. New Hampshire and New York are likely the next tiles to fall, and supporters have promised to continue the fight both in California and federal court. No doubt the momentum will build and more states will tilt in the direction of the prevailing political wind.


That’s not to belittle anyone for whom legal recognition of a unified relationship is an important matter. I yawn because I fail to see why this is even an issue anymore.

A year ago, while gay marriage made its way before the people of California, I addressed the church’s political stand on gay marriage, writing about the evangelical community’s failure to conduct themselves in a biblical manner. That failure was – and is – symptomatic of how the church has lost its way. We cheer a legal victory upholding a state ban on same-sex marriage but, blinded by that win, we lose sight of the eternal picture, pushing away tens of thousands of people we have been called to love.

As an evangelical, I understand the reason behind all the hand-wringing and brow-furrowing. For me, the Bible is clear on the issue – homosexuality is sin. But here’s a memo to my fellow believers: so are many other behaviors that we’ve winked at over the years without the same level of consternation. Divorce, for example. Current statistics suggest that marriages within the evangelical church fail just as often as they do among non-believers. Sex outside the institution of marriage seems rampant as well, not to mention all the other apparently minor (based on the church’s reaction) transgressions enumerated among the Ten Commandments.

I’m not suggesting that bad behavior excuses bad behavior, nor am I suggesting we evangelicals change our standards. To the contrary, I think the responsibility is squarely upon the shoulders of the evangelical church to rise above the debate over same-sex marriage, or any other behavior we see as sinful, and set a unilateral example by adhering to a standard of moral behavior as defined by the Bible. So here’s another memo to my fellow believers: We cannot force others to live by our standards, nor should we expect our government to impose those standards by legislative fiat. We are individually responsible to live the lives we are called by God to live, no matter how those around us choose to live their own lives. It’s a speck in your brother’s eye kind of thing.

Evangelicals like to point out that the Apostle Paul took a hard line against sexual immorality, including homosexuality. They point to his letters to the churches in Rome and Corinth and take those writings as a mandate to social activism, conveniently forgetting that those letters were not written to address the behavior of those outside the church. They were intended to correct immoral behavior within the church.

Paul’s concern was that Christian communities were acting in a manner inconsistent with their beliefs. He wanted his fellow-Christians to examine and correct their behavior in order to develop a closer relationship with God and demonstrate God’s love to the world by their example. Whenever we find the Apostles, Peter and Paul especially, addressing non-believers in the Book of Acts, they are never condemning. Instead, they preach God’s love and grace through Jesus Christ. Far from being aggressive, they willingly submit themselves to abuse and even imprisonment (and eventually death) for the sake of delivering their message – by the examples of their behavior.

When the message is delivered to Christians, it’s a different story. When Paul writes in I Corinthians 5, “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges,” he makes it clear that the church should not worry about the world’s behavior. That’s God’s job. We need to spend our own time and energy keeping ourselves on the narrow path. We’d do well to heed Paul’s advice today.

Believers are called to be salt and light, a living witness of the love of God at work in the world. Ours is not a political battle, but a spiritual one. Even if our hearts break at what we see happening in our country, we are called to demonstrate a better way by living to a standard that has not changed since Christ walked the earth. No law can change that mandate. No court can set it aside.

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