In their dissenting opinions in Obergefell v. Hodges, Justices Roberts and Scalia lamented the way in which the Supreme Court’s ruling would close off public debate about same-sex marriage.
That debate, though, has been increasingly lopsided and narrow. It is increasingly lopsided because public opinion has moved dramatically in favor of legal recognition of same-sex marriages in recent history. It is increasingly narrow because, at least in the case of Christian discourse, opposition to same-sex marriage has abandoned Biblical argumentation and relied more exclusively on natural law arguments.
The American Family Association increasingly appeals to “natural marriage,” rather than “biblical marriage” in its attempts to stem the tides of sin and relativism. The Republican Party’s 2016 platform praises “natural marriage” and never appeals to the Bible in its opposition to marriage equality. And today the most influential scholarly arguments against same-sex marriage also come from natural law thinkers, such as Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, Robert P. George, not from scholars who rely on biblical texts.
How to explain this phenomenon? Perhaps opponents of gay marriage believe Biblical arguments have little traction in a pluralistic society. Perhaps they have been persuaded that the biblical cases against homosexuality are unpersuasive.Or perhaps there is general embarrassment at the prospect of being associated with Westboro Baptist Church’s protestors and their lewd signs invoking Leviticus.
Whatever the causes, Christians’ shift toward natural law argumentation calls for deeper consideration. It is not at all clear to me that the natural law must lead one to oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriage. In fact, I want to suggest that the basic premises of the natural law can lead us to endorse same-sex marriage as a matter of legal policy.
The public debate Roberts and Scalia sought to protect is not as vibrant as they presumed in part because the natural law is the last vestige of Christian opposition to marriage equality. And even this last remaining source of opposition cannot ultimately provide stable intellectual grounding against same-sex unions.
Natural law cases against same-sex marriage frequently have at their core high regard for the nuclear family as both an institution that allows for the full flourishing of individuals and also a foundation for a functional society. Let’s accept that idea, and also the basic natural law concept that rational reflection on the natural order of creation yields a network of moral norms with which human beings can and should align their behavior.
Even accepting those premises, it is not clear that one must oppose the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, because it is not “homosexuality” that threatens to destroy families, but rather “homophobia” that does so. I follow the meaning of “homophobia” Dale Martin offers in Sex and the Single Savior. By “homophobia,” I mean “the loathing of homosexuality that arises from a deep-seated…fear of homosexuality.”(61)
This fear of homosexuality destroys families by causing conflict between parents and children. Nuclear families are torn apart when children realize that they have same-sex attractions or that they deviate from commonly-accepted standards of masculinity and femininity in any way. Realizing this, children face the terrible decision: they can either keep their secrets to themselves, or they can reveal them to parents who may condemn them. Indeed, many parents do condemn and ostracize children who fail to live up to social norms surrounding sex and gender.
Vast literature exists about how to “come out” to parents, how parents can overcome fear, grief, and anger conjured by encountering a child’s homosexuality, and how parents can move to greater acceptance of their gay children. (cf. Carolyn Griffin et. al. in Beyond Acceptance and Robert Berstein at. al. in Straight Parents, Gay Children). All of this literature is a testament to the terrible fact that fear and hatred of homosexuality destroy familial bonds by estranging gay kids from their parents. This phenomenon ought to be of great concern to any natural law thinker, given that the basic premises of the natural law prioritize whole, unified, and loving nuclear families.
How would natural law thinkers advise families in the throes of such crises? What can parents and children do when faced with the threat of familial estrangement? One option is for gay children to try to change their sexual desires and identities in order to gain acceptance from homophobic parents. Typical natural law objections to homosexuality might once have counseled young people to defeat their impulses to same-sex attraction, admit that opposite-sex attraction is the norm for all humans, and simply live in accordance with that norm. But this option has been widely discredited.
Evidence suggests that trying to change same-sex desire is not effective, and may even be harmful. The dissolution of Exodus International, one of the leading Christian groups dedicated to helping people pray the gay away is a strong indicator that this tactic is rightly on the wane. John Paulk, one of the leaders of Exodus International, addressed the damage this approach causes in a statement explaining the group’s disunion. The statement read, in part:
Today, I do not consider myself “ex-gay” and I no longer support or promote the movement. Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people…From the bottom of my heart I wish I could take back my words and actions that caused anger, depression, guilt and hopelessness. In their place I want to extend love, hope, tenderness, joy and the truth that gay people are loved by God.
We should heed Paulk’s reversal on the possibilities of changing homosexual desire to align more closely with opposite-sex attraction. Social scientific research and trustworthy human experiences, two sources that natural law thinking can accommodate, are increasingly leading us to the conclusion that familial estrangement caused by homophobia cannot be solved by forcing kids to conform to hetero-normative social custom.
Another option for gay kids who have been ostracized by their parents is simply to sever ties with their families. They can live with alienation from their parents by moving away from them, avoiding discussions of their sexuality, and/or cutting off contact altogether. Sadly, this is a common way of dealing with familial rifts created by homophobia. Literature on homosexuality abounds with stories in which parents and children live with some level of alienation following a child’s decision to come out of the closet.
The phenomenon of familial estrangement following a “coming out” moment should be troubling to all natural law thinkers, in light of the basic commitment to the importance of the nuclear family for individual flourishing and social functioning. And yet, I have never read a natural law case against this sad reality. Most natural law engagements of homosexuality purport to “defend the family” by arguing that same-sex partnerships cannot sustain this institution, without noticing that parental homophobia bears significant blame for destroying families.
A third option for healing familial estrangement is for parents to accept their gay children without condemning same-sex attraction as such. This means letting go of a moral vision of homosexuality as sinful and disordered. It means letting go of the idea that the best way to relate to one’s gay child is to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” It also means supporting children in their encounters with homophobia in society at large. Parents of gay and lesbian children who initially rejected their children’s sexual identity report that acceptance is the most effective way to reunite families torn apart by this revelation.
In their book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Girgis, Anderson, and George attempt to develop a natural law case against same-sex marriage that does not denounce same-sex relationships as such. They try to argue that they have no moral objection to homosexuality. They claim a natural law position that ostensibly accepts same-sex attraction and relationship, while at the same time denying the legitimacy of same-sex marriage.
Same-sex relationships can be valuable, they say, in the same way that friendships can be valuable. Such an admission apparently qualifies as acceptance. The problem with their argument, though, is that they cannot both accept same-sex attraction and relationships while also denying the legal right for people in such relationships to marry. Despite the fact that they want to appear “accepting,” the moral reality, for Girgis, Anderson, and George, is that same-sex love is inferior to heterosexual love for the purposes of sustaining families and society. As natural law thinkers, they base this judgment on the possibility of procreation.
Heterosexual couples can engage in coitus, while homosexual couples cannot. Coitus is supremely important for our society, given its role in producing offspring. Because homosexual couples cannot engage in coitus, their love and relationships cannot be classified as “marriage.” Thus, Girgis, Anderson, and George undermine their posture of acceptance by writing that homosexual partners “merely touch or interlock” (25-26, 36).
Denigrating same-sex activity in this way reaffirms the idea that homosexual love is inferior to heterosexual love. Add to this denigration the condescending argument that same-sex partners should think of themselves only as “friends,” and the conclusion that these partners should not be given the right to marry, and it becomes clear that, protestations aside, the authors view homosexuality as inherently inferior. However much Girgis, Anderson, and George want to develop an “accepting” natural law account of sexuality, their arguments still constitute homophobia.
How would Girgis, Anderson, and George have a parent respond to a child who summons the strength to come out of the closet? If such a parent responded by saying, “You can still form valuable bonds of friendship!” or “Your bodily touching and interlocking may fall short of coitus, but I’m sure it can be pleasurable!” a reasonable person would conclude that this response is not fully accepting. Full acceptance would, at the very least, regard same-sex love as equally valuable and fulfilling as its heterosexual counterpart.
One would think that natural law ethicists would welcome such acceptance, as it promises to reunite estranged families, and whole, loving families are—at least ostensibly—of great value to natural law theorists. And yet, one looks in vain for such theorists to advocate parental acceptance of gay kids in the interests of keeping families together. Natural law thinkers may not want to admit that accepting homosexual kids is better for families than condemning such kids because such an admission would lead to major revisions of basic natural law ideas about human sexuality. Recognizing that we may have been wrong in discerning the natural order of human sexuality can be a difficult thing to do.
Of course, a natural law case for moral acceptance of homosexuality in the interests of keeping families united has strong implications for our thinking about the positive law. Specifically, the civic laws in states affected by the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges become relevant.
Based on this natural law argument that families can be repaired by accepting rather than condemning homosexuality, natural law thinkers should welcome the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. This is because, consistent with a natural law account of legislation, the civic law can train us in the virtues necessary to participate well in social life, including family life. In the natural law theory of Thomas Aquinas, one of the effects of the human law is to make people good (ST I-II, 92).
On the specific question of homosexuality and familial stability that I have been addressing here, the relevant virtue is parental acceptance of a child’s same-sex attraction, toward the good end of familial reconciliation. Following the Supreme Court’s elimination of state bans on same-sex marriage, I predict that many parents will come to accept their children’s sexual identities and families will recover from estrangement.
Such virtuous acceptance should be both welcome and unsurprising to natural law theorists who already believe that human law makes us grow in virtue. The shifting rhetoric in psychiatric discourse around homosexuality may be a good predictor of the way law will influence parents’ acceptance of gay children. The American Psychiatric Association’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder has fostered greater acceptance of same-sex attraction, especially among parents struggling with a child’s “coming out” moment.
Institutions such as the APA and the Supreme Court have enormous influence over individuals’ perception of homosexuality. Natural law theory will recognize that their definitions and rulings can and do shape us. I submit that these definitions and rulings are currently shaping us toward the virtue of acceptance and the good of familial reconciliation.
But the challenge to natural law engagements of homosexuality and same-sex marriage that I offer goes deeper than mere reflection on a specific Supreme Court ruling. On the one hand, natural law opposition (exemplified by Girgis, Anderson, and George) to same-sex marriage is based on a selective and incoherent evaluation of the nuclear family. On the other hand, though, it seems inevitable that natural law theory will have to revisit some basic commitments as it moves to greater coherence on questions of sexuality and the family.
The easiest ways for natural law theorists to achieve greater coherence on these questions will be to abandon their reverence for anatomical complementarity and to relax the ethical requirement that sexual partners intend procreation for sex to be permissible. Departing from these two positions will allow natural law thinkers not only to accept same-sex attraction and reunite families, but also to avoid awkward and unconvincing responses to questions about infertility. (For example, Girgis, Anderson, and George say that infertile heterosexual couples can still engage in coitus, which is socially beneficial, but they never consider the case of erectile dysfunction.)
Although letting go of these long-standing evaluations of anatomical complementarity and the intent to procreate may be difficult, it is not impossible with a small dose of humility. Indeed, humility is necessary for religious people who face the unsettling reality that sources like the Bible and the natural law cannot deliver specific moral norms that are timeless and universal.
Martin makes this point effectively in the context of sexuality and biblical interpretation. “We should remember,” he writes, “that Paul begins invoking Scripture only after appealing to other kinds of arguments and ‘sources’ of knowledge, including his own and the Galatians’ experiences.” (152)
Martin’s point is that we cannot read the Bible for moral guidance without already having our reading informed by our experiences and those of others. The same is true for natural law reflection: in reasoning toward moral precepts in light of what we think is the natural order of creation, we necessarily bring our experiences and those of others to bear on our reasoning processes. As we consider a wider and wider circle of experience (that is, one that includes LGBTQ+ people more than it used to), we may find that our ideas about order and our specific moral norms need revision.
Such recognition would not weaken the natural law’s moral authority. On the contrary, it would gain integrity by demonstrating enough humility to admit fallibility. The only thing natural law accounts of human sexuality have to lose is their dual status as the last holdout against marriage equality and as the last voice against the full dignity of people who do not conform to heternormative social standards.
Speaking at an LGBTQ Victory Fund brunch in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, possible 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg discusses all the problems he wrestled with when he came out as gay.
Sometimes, the process of reporting a column is infuriating, and that happened with this column. I’m writing about some of the latest sex scandals in the Catholic and Baptist churches, in particular the revelations (first reported in the Houston Chronicle) that hundreds of Baptist figures committed sexual assaults, including rapes of children as young as three.
What’s infuriating is not only the sexual assaults themselves, but also the way some prominent Baptist blowhards like Jerry Falwell made a name for themselves thundering against gays, even as rapes were unfolding with impunity in their own church network.
But I think it’s also worth exploring whether the problem doesn’t go beyond individual pedophiles; to me it seems the problem is also of unaccountable and patriarchal church structures that relegate women to second-class status. Read my take!
[00:00:00] Hey everyone, its Skye. I am not here with Phil or Christian. In fact, I’m not even here at all because this week I am away traveling and speaking. I’ll be in Hawaii at the YWAM base in Kona to teach a class? And then I’m going to Palm [00:00:15] Springs, California to teach a church Retreat and thankfully I have my lovely wife with me for the whole week. So we’re taking this sort of as a vacation as well. So on this week’s episode. We have something a little different for you. We’ve got a sermon that I preached earlier this year at Mission [00:00:30] Hills Church in San Marcos, California, and I thought this message might be a good fit for the holy post audience because it deals with a number of themes that come up repeatedly on the podcast this sermon is all about how should Christians be thinking about the way we relate to the culture and even [00:00:45] though Phil and I don’t talk about this explicitly on many episodes. We do actually have an agenda behind the holy post apart from the ridiculous banter and some of the more interesting interviews are real agenda is to help you get a ravishing vision of your life with God and
Figure [00:01:00] out how to live in a culture that is moving beyond Christian faith into a pluralistic society without resorting to fear or anger this sermon tackles a lot of those same themes. So I hope you enjoy it. I hope you find it helpful and we’ll be back next week with a regular episode [00:01:15] of the Holy post. What’s the news that you like the most? Who’s your favorite podcast host if it’s breakfast get your toast it sky and fill in the Holy post sky [00:01:30] and Phil and the holy post and sometimes Christian. My name is Skye. I’m delighted to be with you and grateful for the opportunity to share with you. I’ve been looking forward to this. We have a lot of ground to cover this morning. We [00:01:45] are going to look at the Old Testament and the New Testament. We are going to look at a lot of history. We’re going to talk about Mexican prison riots and Hollywood socialites. We’re going to talk about marriage and bad tattoos. We’re going to look at Medieval.
And [00:02:00] monkey trials all kinds of interesting stuff. So buckle up.
I want to begin with fashion.
And a fashion battle that I witnessed when I was a college student. So about 25 years ago. I was a college student at [00:02:15] a large State University in the Midwest and my freshman year a couple weeks into the end of the semester fall was coming. It was getting cooler outside. There was a group on campus called the glba. So for the gay lesbian bisexual Alliance and [00:02:30] in the fall every year they had a gay Awareness Week where they’d bring different speakers on the campus and have different events to kind of raise awareness for their cause and they started putting posters up around campus announcing jean day.
Jean de the poster said was [00:02:45] Thursday and it meant any students who supported gay rights were to wear jeans to show their support.
Now immediately everyone knew this is obviously a ploy because jeans are like a second skin for most college students and it was a way for the glba to inflate the perception [00:03:00] of their support and no one paid attention. There were dozens of groups on campus at all had their cause that always did these kinds of things no one paid attention until there was a conservative student group on campus that put up their own signs, which said if you do not support gay rights wear a shirt on Thursday. [00:03:15] So you have the silliness of the glb ace tactic was met and surpassed by the stupidity of the conservative groups play. So Thursday comes most students didn’t carry and they just go on with their lives. However, they were going [00:03:30] to dress that they didn’t pay attention to it. But some students took this very seriously. I was walking to class that morning and in the middle of Campus was the glba students all wearing blue jeans and no shirts including the women.
[00:03:45] And then there were the conservative students who were all wearing khaki pants and in some cases multiple shirts right to uphold, you know, conservative Traditional Values and find no one paid attention to get everyone on their lives and there’s day but in the middle of the [00:04:00] day around noon in front of the Student Center, these two groups got a new a clash and it was nasty. I mean the shouting the screaming people were trying to hold them apart from each other. It was the shirts versus the Skins. It was the khakis [00:04:15] versus the denims and as I’m watching remember, I’ve certainly been on campus for a few weeks. I’m a freshman. I’m like what on Earth is going on and I had the voice of my high school history teacher kind of echoing in my head because on graduation day. He told me Sky you’re going to do just [00:04:30] fine in college if you remember one thing college is not the real world.
And sadly in the 25 years since the real world has come to look an awful lot more like my college experience than I would have liked.
And we’re not screaming at each other [00:04:45] in the middle of a quad in front of the Student Center anymore and said were screaming at each other on cable news.
Or on radio programs or on Twitter social media or screaming at each other at school board meetings or in front of City Hall arguing about whether or not you can put a nativity scene [00:05:00] in there. Whatever.
Is this really how it’s supposed to be?
Is this supposed to be my tribe against your tribe or my group against your group? And if you’re not with me, you’re against me and all these different groups displaying their loyalties fighting [00:05:15] with one another about who’s going to dominate the Public Square who’s going to dominate Washington who’s going to dominate our policies and regulations and who’s going to get their way and who’s going to lose? Is that really what were called to
And not just as Americans, [00:05:30] but is that what we’re called to as Christians?
That’s what I want to talk about this morning. How are we as followers of Jesus supposed to engage our culture particularly as our culture becomes increasingly secular pluralistic and post-christian.
[00:05:45] Are the options before us either run away and Retreat from the culture or to fight and try to dominate and control the culture or is there another option?
To get into history a little bit throughout the 20th [00:06:00] century. There were primarily two ways that Christians viewed cultural engagement and a dramatic shift that happened in the middle and to describe that shift in these different postures are models of cultural engagement. I want to draw from to very [00:06:15] pivotal stories in the Old Testament. And the first is the story of The Exodus you remember Sunday school or you’ve seen Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments every year and you know, the basic story of The Exodus the background is God’s people are slaves in [00:06:30] Egypt and they’re being oppressed and persecuted by pharaoh and his regime and God hears their cries and he sends Moses and he rescues them out of Egypt Remember The Parting of the Red Sea and all that stuff.
That’s The Exodus the exit of God’s people out of slavery in Egypt [00:06:45] and as they’re on their way to the promised land God gives them his laws and his instructions but a lot of these laws and instructions were designed to preserve the the special quality of God’s people as they are surrounded by all these Pagan cultures including Egypt, [00:07:00] he gives them instructions like you’re not to worship the same God that they worship you’re not to make idols and worship them you aren’t to eat foods that are different than what the Nations around you eat. You know, they all have these Pagan Kings you’re not going to be like that you’re going to have [00:07:15] an ethical system that values people who are poor or who are immigrants or who are slaves among you because you know what it’s like to be mistreated. So he had all these rules and regulations that were meant to keep the Israelites separate and distinct from the cultures [00:07:30] around them. That’s that’s the Exodus idea and it’s an idea that dominated much of 20th century Christian cultural engagement are really more properly labeled disengagement.
Let me give you a little background in the early 20th century. There [00:07:45] were all kinds of new ideas that were infiltrating our culture many of them coming from Europe.
Darwin scientific ideas new ideas about the Bible and about scripture and are [00:08:00] Miracles really possible and can you really trust the authority and historicity of the scriptures all these ideas are kind of flooding into North America and it caused what historians refer to as the modernist fundamentalist controversy if you want to research it on your own look it up on Google or whatever but [00:08:15] here’s the basics one side of the church said hey, all these new ideas that are coming in and Science and Technology and on and on we need to adapt to those things and realize that our faith needs to adapt and we need to abandon old ideas and really absorb these new things. They were called the modernists [00:08:30] the fundamentalist on the other side said no way we’re sticking to the fundamentals of the faith and we’re not giving an inch and this caused all kinds of riffs and turmoil in the culture and in the church and historians look at one particular event in 1925 is kind of a turning point. You [00:08:45] may remember this from high school history class the Scopes Monkey Trial remember that
This was a trial where a high school teacher intent in Tennessee was put on trial for teaching evolution and it became kind of this proxy battle for everything else [00:09:00] that was going on in the culture. Well coming out of that trial in 1925. A lot of Christians came to the conclusion that there’s no saving the culture is basically going to hell in a handbasket. It’s all downhill from here. So what we ought to do is completely disengage [00:09:15] withdraw from the culture.
And around the 1920s and proceeding a lot of Christians withdrew from politics from government from the academy from arts and entertainment from all kinds of sectors of [00:09:30] the of the Public Square. They withdrew into these safe enclaves, where were they their families their churches their institutions could be isolated and protected from the influence the Big Bad Evil influence of the culture around them. This is The Exodus approach be separate [00:09:45] be distinct protect yourself from the influence of the world around you it was also in this time period that a lot of American Christianity started to develop its own parallel subculture where we started our own colleges and universities. We started our own publishing [00:10:00] house as we created our own Radio Networks, and then eventually television networks, and now movies and there became this whole parallel Christian subculture that looked a lot like the regular culture, but it slapped a Jesus sticker on it.
That’s what happened in this time frame.
[00:10:15] But I want you to recognize is that this Exodus approach of separation is largely predicated on a fearful view of the world.
That it’s a dangerous and threatening place. And the best thing we can do is guard ourselves [00:10:30] circle the wagons and isolate.
In the Middle Ages, there was a theologian named Thomas Aquinas amazing. Brilliant theologian.
And he talked about how fear in the Christian is a Contracting posture [00:10:45] of the Soul. It kind of draws Us in word and it makes it so that were primarily concerned about ourselves rather than others and he compared a fearful person or fearful Community to a medieval city under siege. If again, you know your history when [00:11:00] an invading Army would come against the city all the peasants in the surrounding Countryside would gather all the resources they could as quickly as they could and then they’d run into the city walls and they barricade themselves behind the Gates hoping that the resources they had amassed inside [00:11:15] the city would Outlast the resources of the invading Army that would Siege the city of all around the wall the longest Siege of medieval history lasted 26 years.
But that’s an image of kind of The Exodus approach like we are going to hunker down [00:11:30] and protect ourselves our schools our families our churches our way of life. We’re going to guard our resources at it kind of makes us into a rather self-centered narcissistic view of things. It’s all about surviving.
And in much [00:11:45] of the 20th century the attitude of a lot of Christians was don’t worry about politics. Don’t worry about culture. Don’t worry about law to worry about the Arts because the end is coming and Jesus is going to rescue us out of here. So this just hunker down and play it safe.
But then about 50 [00:12:00] years into this Exodus approach a big shift happened.
In the 1970s a whole bunch of Christians realize this ain’t working and maybe we need to take a different approach and they came rushing back in from the cultural [00:12:15] Hinterlands to re-engage the Public Square and politics and government and everything else in 1976 Newsweek magazine actually had a cover declaring it the year of the evangelicals because so many of them had seemed to come out of the [00:12:30] woodwork and we’re re-engaging now question is why?
What happened that led so many Christians to decide this Exodus approach wasn’t the right way to go.
Well dancer that let’s go back into the Bible and the Old Testament. There’s [00:12:45] another incredibly important story in the Old Testament that explains the new way that Christians came to engage culture many centuries after The Exodus God’s people had been settled in the Promised Land.
And can’t get into all the details but [00:13:00] in 538 BC the Babylonian Army invaded the holy land they destroyed Jerusalem destroyed the temple and as the Babylonians were prone to do in their march across the known World when they conquered a people they would enslave those people and bring them [00:13:15] back as captives to Babylon. It was a form of assimilation. This is where you get the story about Daniel in the Lion’s Den and all that kind of stuff was happening during this Exile time. So there is a season for which the Israelites were captives in Babylon. They couldn’t go [00:13:30] home and a lot of the Israelites believed that this captivity would not last very long and so they weren’t settling in they weren’t kind of planting Vineyards or doing anything. They were just like, okay. When do we get to go back to our home when we get back to Joe to Jerusalem and the Lord spoke [00:13:45] to his people this is the passage that we heard read earlier. He spoke to them through the Prophet Jeremiah.
and essentially what the Lord said to them is you guys are going to be here for a while so settle in
Marry off your kids have grandkids [00:14:00] plant some Vineyards build some houses. You are going to be in Babylon a lot longer than you think now eventually you’re going to get out of there, but for now settle in and really important is what he says in Jeremiah 29:7.
[00:14:15] He says seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile for in its welfare. You will find your welfare. Sorry, that’s Jeremiah 29:7. Is that what I said? Yeah, 27 in other words.
[00:14:31] Make lemonade on a lemon out of lemons you’re in this horrible circumstance. You didn’t want to be here. But here’s where you are make the best of it.
And as you seek the well-being of the city that you find yourself in it’s going to go well for you. This [00:14:46] Exile approach is the posture that a lot of Christians have taken since about the 1970s. The attitude has been like oh my goodness, you know, we withdrew from the culture back in the 1920s 50 years has gone by Jesus hasn’t come back yet [00:15:01] things are getting worse, maybe instead of withdrawing. We need to engage. We need to participate we need to we need to have a role in this Babylon in which we are captives to make sure things go well for us.
This [00:15:16] has become a really popular model. In fact this verse Jeremiah 29:7. I encounter it so many places. I half expect to watch a football game and have some guy holding up Jeremiah 29:7 at some point. It’s just become this mantra for a lot of Christians. When we need to engage in the culture. We need to engage in politics. [00:15:31] We need to engage in government all these other things. So what was it about the 1970s that led to this shift?
Well, there’s kind of a popular narrative and then there’s the unpopular narrative the popular narrative is that the sexual revolution of the 1960s [00:15:46] which became codified into our laws in the early 1970s? Particularly row v Wade in 1973 kind of drove a lot of Christians to re-engage in the Public Square.
There’s some truth to that but it’s not the whole truth when you really study this issue [00:16:01] and get into the weeds of it you realize it wasn’t primarily the sexual Revolution movement of the 60s that led to Christians re-engaging. It was actually the civil rights movement of the 1960s and I don’t want to get in all the details here, but suffice it to say there [00:16:16] were a lot of Christian communities in the south in particular who were not happy about desegregation.
And they were motivated to re-engage government in the Public Square because they didn’t like what the government was doing with integration. So [00:16:31] they came roaring back into the Public Square for various reasons and decided we can no longer isolate ourselves. We can no longer be safe in our own communities. We can’t just be white in our communities anymore. So we need to fight back and we need to mobilize and [00:16:46] so they came back into the Public Square and they used this Exile vision of the world is turned into Babylon America is off of its judeo Christian Moorings and if we don’t fight to get it back it’s not going to go well for us and everything is going to [00:17:01] fall apart for our families and our kids and our schools and our institutions and and out of this came this language and you’ve probably encountered it in various forms this language about how Christians need to change the world.
I remember seeing that as a Seminary Student all [00:17:16] the time many years ago. We’re here to change the World to Change the World to Change the World. It’s become a mantra. There’s a fascinating book called to change the world that was written by James Davis and Hunter some years ago where he’s describing. Where did this idea this rhetoric of world-changing come [00:17:31] from for contemporary Christians? And here’s what he concludes the rhetoric of world-changing originates from a profound angst that the world is changing for the worse and that we must act urgently there’s a sense [00:17:46] of panic that things are falling apart and if we don’t respond now, we’re going to lose the things we cherish the most what animates this talk is a desperation to hold on to something.
When the world no longer makes sense.
[00:18:02] So for about the last 40 50 years the posture has been Christian engaged the Public Square engage the world because if you don’t things are going to go really really bad for you your community your family your [00:18:17] school would ever change the world to protect yourself.
All right. Now here’s the important part.
Despite this dramatic shift from disengagement in The Exodus mile model to re-engagement through the Exile model. [00:18:32] There’s a massive shift in strategy. What I want you to recognize is that underlying that strategy there was actually no significant shift in the way Christian see the world.
Both Exodus and Exile were [00:18:47] predicated on viewing the world as a fundamentally dangerous and threatening place.
Now assuming you took high school biology, you’re taught that when an organism feels threatened it will respond in one of two ways, right? [00:19:02] What are they?
Fight or flight that’s what we see here Christians feeling threatened by the world. And in the 1920s. The attitude was flight Let’s Escape. Let’s run away from it and isolate ourselves. And then [00:19:17] in the 1970s and onward the attitude became fight, let’s re-engage and dominate so that we can make sure it goes well for us but under both of those Visions is fear.
It’s an idea that we are under attack and we are afraid this goes [00:19:32] back to what Aquinas said when we are afraid. It contracts our souls. It makes us turn inward. We’re not concerned with loving others and serving others and blessing others were concerned about. How do I protect myself?
[00:19:47] How do I protect my tribe my family my community?
It’s all predicated on fear.
So let me take you back to Jeremiah 29:7 because there’s a detail in that verse [00:20:02] that you may not have noticed before that. I want you to see.
Jeremiah the Lord through Jeremiah says for the Israelites seek the welfare of the city where I’ve sent you into exile.
For in its welfare, you will find your welfare [00:20:17] now notice.
What motivates the Israelites the seek the welfare of Babylon?
Are they really interested in loving their Babylonian Neighbors?
Are they really wanting to see this Pagan Empire with all kinds of pagan [00:20:32] deities really flourish and Thrive because they just love Babylon so much.
Know the motivation in this text is very clear. It’s self-interest.
Seek the welfare of Babylon [00:20:47] so that it goes well for you.
This is an attitude that I think a lot of Christians have today. They’re not genuinely concerned about their neighbors who aren’t Believers or caring about a land that they don’t plan on sticking [00:21:02] around in very long because God’s going to rescue them out of it or take them home. It’s it’s out of self-interest rooted in fear and a desire for control. Now, this was an appropriate command back in the time of the Exile with Jeremiah because [00:21:17] the Lord needed to preserve His People Israel long enough in order to fulfill their purpose was the coming of the Messiah so they had a reason why they needed to preserve the way they were but if this is as far as we get in our understanding of cultural engagement, I would argue. This is a sub Christian view.
[00:21:33] Rooted in self interest in fear, and we’re called the far more than that.
So, why does this persist why do we keep coming back to this attitude?
Well, we have to remember that fear is one of the most Basic [00:21:48] Instincts of our species. It’s the easiest most efficient way to motivate people. It’s what most advertisers do it’s what most politicians do they make us afraid.
But we have not been given a spirit of fear. The Apostle John tells [00:22:03] us but a spirit of power and freedom.
And fear is not a quality that leads us into the kingdom of God.
There are all kinds of voices in the culture today who claim to be Christian some of them cultural [00:22:19] leaders some of them Christian institutional leaders some of them political leaders and they use fear to try to motivate us fear of that group or this issue or that policy and heaven forbid that this law passes or this person gets [00:22:34] on the court or this one gets elected and they use fear all the time to try to motivate us because it’s so easy and efficient, but let me tell you something if someone is leading you with fear, they are not leading you by the spirit of Christ.
In fact, I don’t think it’s [00:22:49] an overstatement to say they are leading you by the spirit of antichrist.
Where the fires of fear and anger are stoked the warm inviting glow of Christian love will not long endure.
[00:23:04] As Henry now and said fear only engenders fear it never gives birth to love.
And it’s so much in our church these days.
Is driven by fear and you wonder why [00:23:19] the culture react so negatively to so many Christians.
Because they see us a self-interested.
People who go on the attack against the perceived enemy shirts versus skins denim [00:23:35] versus khakis.
Were called to something more.
So if it’s not Exodus and it’s not Exile, what is the third alternative?
We got to get to the New Testament because there we [00:23:50] find a completely different vision of cultural engagement.
In the New Testament, we see a motivation far greater than just making lemonade out of lemons better than just tolerating a terrible circumstance better than [00:24:05] self-interest or just get by as best. You can we see a far deeper more profound understanding of the world, you know, when you read the gospels what you find there is interesting despite our bias toward total pragmatism is 21st century [00:24:20] consumeristic Americans. Jesus doesn’t actually offer a lot of practical advice in the gospels. You don’t see a lot about you know, here’s three steps to a better marriage kind of stuff in the gospels. It’s not there. Why
Because a lot of what Jesus did both [00:24:35] his miracles and his Parables were not primarily designed to be instructive. They were designed to be inspiration. They were designed to Open the Eyes of his disciples to see the world differently because Jesus understood if you [00:24:50] see the world the way he sees it you are going to act within the world the way he would act.
So he wanted them to see a world in which it made perfect sense that the first would be last. The last would be first a world in which the marginalized and [00:25:05] the forgotten neglected were actually entering the kingdom of God ahead of the religious leaders in the Pharisees. He wanted them to see a world in which it wasn’t the rich who were considered blessed by God and righteous but it was this poor Widow who puts just a penny into the offering he [00:25:20] wanted them to see a world in which even a child the most powerless and neglected in the society was considered great in the kingdom of God.
He wanted them to see a world where even a messiah who surrenders himself to the most cruel [00:25:35] and unjust system. The world has ever seen and is killed by that system rejected by everyone. We’re even that Messiah is raised up and given the name above all names.
He was turning everything upside down.
[00:25:50] Because he knew if his followers saw that world they would act differently within it.
Let me tell you a story about a place not actually too far from here.
Just South of the Border near Tijuana is [00:26:05] La Mesa prison, one of the most notorious prisons in Mexico home to 6,000 inmates. Mostly hardened criminals murderers drug lords the worst of the worst.
But in that prison for over 30 years there was one unexpected [00:26:20] occupant they called her, Mother Antonia.
She passed away just a few years ago in her 90s, but she spent over 30 years in this prison among these prisoners. She loved and cared [00:26:35] for them. She met with them and counseled them and prayed for them. She tried to get as many prisoners as she could to reconcile with their victims and seek forgiveness. She advocated for the prisoners making sure that they had food and water and medicines. She was a go-between between the prisoners [00:26:50] and the guards.
She even cared for the guards and their families she would go visit the families of the prisoners out in the community to make sure that they were cared for but the remarkable thing about this little nun wasn’t all those incredible things. She did. It’s that each [00:27:05] night.
When the prison was being shut down she didn’t leave.
She had a cell for herself. She wasn’t a prisoner. She voluntarily stayed there every night and slept with these hardened criminals. They [00:27:20] came to call her mama. She called them her sons.
Here’s the crazy part.
Mother Antonia didn’t enter La Mesa prison until 1977 before that. Her name was Mary Brenner [00:27:35] Clark and she was a blonde socialite in Hollywood.
She had been married twice divorced twice the mother of seven children when her children were grown. She felt a calling from God to enter a religious [00:27:50] order and to care for the poor and the marginalized but being Roman Catholic and divorced twice there weren’t a whole lot of religious orders for her to enter. So she packed up her station wagon drove South of the Border and entered Lamesa prison where she spent over 30 years serving those inmates.
[00:28:06] Ten years ago in September of 2008 despite the remarkable transformation of that prison. It was still a dangerous place and a riot broke out. The prisoners were upset that they weren’t getting their basic necessities met and somehow they got hand the cache of weapons and went [00:28:21] on a rampage and took hostages. This all happened when Mother Antonia was not in the prison and when she came back that night she found that all the electricity has been cut to the prison and the entire place was surrounded by soldiers.
She went to one of the soldiers and [00:28:36] beg to be let into the prison and they were like, there’s no way we’re letting an 85 year old woman into this prison with armed criminals and hostages.
Explain the risks you would be taking and she said I don’t care. I am not afraid.
[00:28:53] And she was a persistent little woman and they finally agreed to let her enter this prison.
The middle of the night she entered is completely dark. All the electricity has been cut.
And she finally found a prisoner. She knew named Blackie.
[00:29:08] She fell at his feet and began to beg him to end the riot and drop the weapons. This is what she said to him.
She said it’s not right that you’re locked up here hungry and thirsty we can take care of those things. But this isn’t [00:29:23] the way to do it. I will help you make it better. But first you have to give me the guns I beg you to put down your weapons.
Blackie responded to her mother as soon as we heard your voice we drop [00:29:38] the guns out the window.
Mother Antonia Mary Brenner Clark
Represents a different vision of engaging the world not Exodus [00:29:53] get me as far away from danger and discomfort as I can be not Exile. I find myself a prisoner here. I might as well just make the best of it. No, she represents the way of Jesus.
Which is the way of embrace?
[00:30:09] in Philippians chapter 2 the Apostle Paul tells us
had an attitude that we are all to have and he describes it this way though. He was in the form of God. He did not count equality [00:30:24] with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself.
By taking on the form of a servant being born in the likeness of a man and being found in human form. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death even [00:30:39] death on a cross.
Jesus came and embraced this world willingly.
This posture of embrace is different than Exodus and exile for three [00:30:54] reasons briefly cover. These the first is that Embrace is a choice.
This is important think back to Exodus in Exile Exodus and Exile were ways of responding to circumstances that you don’t [00:31:09] choose or like the Israelites did not choose to be slaves in Egypt.
They didn’t want to be there and they got out of there. And God said stay away. Don’t don’t go back to that kind of thing. Right? They didn’t want to be Exiles in Babylon, but [00:31:25] they decided based on God’s word. We’re going to make the best of a lousy situation until we get to go home that tends to be the attitude. A lot of Christians have about the world today man. This place stinks. This culture is terrible. Look at all the problems were having look at all the post-christian stuff [00:31:40] that’s going on. Look at the way. We’re all slipping away from Christian Morality In the Public Square and it always used to be so much better. We always talk about the culture so negatively like if we had a choice we would we wouldn’t be here.
[00:31:55] But Jesus chose to come and enter this world isn’t like he showed up in Bethlehem as a kid. I was like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m here. What a mess. Right? Look father. Why did you drop me in this mud hole. Why am I you know, he [00:32:10] didn’t have that attitude.
Is that it stood was I want to be here I choose to identify with you. I embrace the realities The Temptations of the struggles and the Pains of this world.
[00:32:25] Because I love you so much.
Think about the messages that we send to our culture.
We meaning the church in general what the culture tends to hear from us as Christians of one is one of two things either man things used to be so much better.
[00:32:41] Or they hear someday things are going to be better again when Christ returns and everything is made right, but they don’t hear us talk to well about the present do they could you imagine if you’re a parent? Could you imagine if the messages that your children here are only like you used [00:32:56] to be so cute.
You used to be so much more adorable and loving or someday. I hope you really make something of yourself. Like if those are the only messages children ever hear. How do you think that’s going to affect them?
[00:33:12] Nothing about the message that the culture here is from the church and used to be so much better someday if we get control you’ll be okay again.
But they’re not hearing in affirming thing about today that [00:33:27] we want to be here that we choose to be or now. You might be thinking. Hey, wait a minute Jesus chose to empty himself. It says and take on the form of a servant he chose to enter the world and do what he did. I didn’t choose to be born. Now. I didn’t choose [00:33:42] this place unless you’re an immigrant. Maybe you chose this place. But how does this idea that to embrace the culture as a choice? How do we reconcile that with the reality that we don’t actually choose? Well one of the most important lessons I’ve [00:33:57] had to learn over the last I don’t know how many years
Is that real freedom and real Joy comes when we learn to choose what we did not choose
Let me explain that.
A couple years ago. I [00:34:12] was mentoring a college student who’s actually a graduate student wonderful intelligent guy named David and he called me up one day frantically and he’s like I have to get together with you. I need to talk to you immediately. Can you drop whatever you’re doing and meet me at the coffee shop. So make sure you sounded panicked. So [00:34:27] I show up at the coffee shop. We get our drinks you sit down at the table and he’s just beside himself and he’s like, I didn’t know who else to talk to. Thank you for coming here. He’s like I have something I have to ask you and I promise no matter what you say. I won’t tell anyone.
[00:34:42] It’s like, okay. What is this about?
Turns out that he had been dating a young woman for a while. It was getting serious. They were talking about getting married and he was about to pop the question and get engaged and he was getting cold feet.
So he leans [00:34:57] in like this cone of silence right over our table and he says Sky. I need to know honestly, do you ever regret the decision to marry your wife?
And I [00:35:12] was like, this is too much fun. I couldn’t just let this go easily. So I leaned into David I said
I didn’t make the decision to marry Amanda and he looked at me like what are you talking about? This is crazy. And he knew that I’m half Indian. My father’s [00:35:27] from India. My mother’s mostly Swedish and Norwegian. I’m a huge mess. But he he he’s like was this an arranged marriage what you didn’t tell me that I didn’t realize I said no. No. No, it was an arranged marriage. I said, I didn’t choose to marry Amanda.
I said [00:35:42] the sky from 19 years ago chose to marry Amanda. I now live with the consequences of his decision every day.
And to be completely honest most days. I’m [00:35:57] thrilled to be living with those consequences, but there are days when I’m not it’s hard.
But now by God’s grace. I find the strength to choose that which [00:36:12] I did not choose.
He had this big ugly tattoo on his arm.
He was looking at me dumbfounded the point. I said David you didn’t choose that tattoo. Your younger probably inebriated self chose that tattoo and [00:36:27] you now live with the consequences of it every day.
You didn’t choose this culture. You didn’t choose this time that place to be born.
But nonetheless God is inviting you to choose what you didn’t choose. Do [00:36:42] you want to be here?
Do you want to have the neighbors that you have? Do you want to be facing the challenges that our world today is facing. Do you want to be a man or woman of God following Jesus in this time [00:36:57] in this place, or do you do it kicking and screaming?
I think if we do it Kicking and Screaming not only does that communicate to our neighbors that we don’t really love them and care for them, but it’s actually an affront to God’s sovereignty who chose to put you in [00:37:12] this time and this place.
Do you choose this as the place where God has called you?
Because if you do choose it, you will find Freedom and you will find joy and you will find the grace [00:37:27] to act as he’s calling you to act. So that’s number one. Number two, the way that Embrace is different than just Exile or Exodus.
Exile in Exodus were or postures of cultural engagement that were [00:37:42] primarily self-centered. It was about protecting ourselves protecting ourselves from the influence of these Pagan Nations around us or protecting ourselves so that we can get back to Jerusalem. Once the Captivity is over protecting ourselves from the deterioration of the society [00:37:57] by withdrawing into our institutions and churches and schools or whatever protecting ourselves by seeking to dominate Washington DC and politics and policy right? It’s all about protecting ourselves, but Jesus is different.
He makes it clear that the reason [00:38:12] he showed up the reason why he came and entered into our Human Experience to dwell Among Us.
Was so that he might seek and save the Lost?
He came and declared that he didn’t come to be [00:38:27] served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many Embraces different because it’s motivation is for others.
Not for ourselves and one of the things that has tainted the witness [00:38:42] of the church in our age today is the perception is that we are all about ourselves. We’re about defending our rights our institutions our values our liberties.
But we’re not about to fight [00:38:57] for the other team. We’re not about to give ourselves away for them and their goodness. We’re not about to actually love our enemies. I mean who would have thought of something so stupid is that
but that’s exactly what we’re called to do.
If our Christian [00:39:12] cultural engagement is only about preserving Christian ideas and values and institutions than something is wrong.
Martin Luther King jr. Of course famous Civil Rights leader, but he first and [00:39:27] foremost considered himself a minister of the gospel and the gospel influence the way he went about his calling.
Obviously he fought hard.
For equal rights for African-Americans for desegregation and for the end of various [00:39:42] forms of institutional racism, but when you read his sermons and you read his writings you discover, there’s another element of his motivation. That doesn’t get as much play doesn’t get broadcast nearly enough. He frequently talked about what he called a double victory.
[00:39:59] And in his mind the double victory was this.
Not only would African-Americans be set free from the the dehumanizing effects of racism and segregation but he believed that segregation and racism dehumanized the white people [00:40:14] who practiced it
And he said my goal is not just to free African-Americans. I want to free my white brothers and sisters from the evil of racism in the way. It shrinks their souls and he says that is the double [00:40:29] Victory. It’s not just about rights for my group are my people. It’s I want to see those who consider themselves my enemies liberated and set free as well.
That is a mark of true Christian engagement. It’s [00:40:44] what Jesus did as he hung on the cross and looks at the very people who are executing him and says father forgive them.
because they need forgiveness to
Are we out there? Just defending [00:40:59] our rights?
Or are we willing to sacrifice ourselves even for those who hate us?
Are we only interested in defending religious liberty for Christians?
Or will we defend religious liberty for Muslims?
[00:41:15] for Jews for atheists for Hindus
Are we only interested in our right to speak freely?
Or will we defend the right of our neighbor whom we disagree with to speak freely.
[00:41:31] The vision of a church that’s only interested in itself is a contradiction to the witness of Jesus Christ.
And it’s rooted in fear rather than love finally last one Embraces [00:41:46] different than Exodus or Exile because Exodus in Exile were primarily concerned with survival.
Let’s just get through this so that we can get to the other side. Let’s just get through this Exile in Babylon because eventually we’ll get to go home to Jerusalem, right? It’s just perseverance [00:42:02] to get through a lousy circumstance.
Unfortunately lot of Christians also have this attitude man. I’m just passing through I’m white-knuckling it until I can get out of here either in a casket or in the Rapture right one way or another I’m out of this place. That is not a [00:42:17] new testament vision.
don’t have time to get into why I wrote a whole book on it, but
When Jesus showed up was his attitude. Okay. I just maybe 30 33 years. I can get out of this mess, right?
[00:42:33] Everywhere Jesus went he didn’t just help people survive.
He brought flourishing.
He brought things to their ultimate amazing abundant goodness. He didn’t just say hey, I’m here to make sure you guys survive long enough to [00:42:48] get to the kingdom. He said no, I’ve come that you may have life and have it abundantly.
When people didn’t have a meal when they didn’t have enough food because they were sitting around all day listening to Jesus. What did he do that? He get him like some Lunchables and get them by for the day bread [00:43:04] and fish multiplied so their stomachs were distended like this and they had twelve basketfuls of leftovers, right and they weren’t even Americans they were gorging themselves on all this food when he shows up at a wedding and runs out of wind as he go. All right. Well, [00:43:19] let’s bring out the cheap stuff in a box. No, no. No the best wine they’d ever tasted is what he provided Jesus brings flourishing. Remember that story of John and Peter when they’re going to the temple and encountered that lame beggar.
And the Beggars asking for some money and beaters [00:43:34] like money, you know, we follow Jesus we got no money.
But what I do have I’m going to give to you. He says stand up and walk did that beggar stand up and walk? No, it says he leaped he started dancing jumping.
[00:43:51] Where the power of Jesus comes in people don’t just survive they flourish.
And our calling is not just a get by in this world are help a couple people make it as best. They can we are to see the fullness of the potential of lives expanding [00:44:07] and the reason for this is Jesus and his church and his followers are called to take pieces of the coming Kingdom and make them a reality in the present.
It’s not just about surviving until we can get off this rock. It’s [00:44:22] about bringing heaven to this rock.
To get a foretaste of the Kingdom that is yet to come.
So here’s the question.
What makes you afraid?
What makes you turn inward [00:44:37] to shrink to circle the wagons to barricade the walls to think only about your cells or your Institution?
And what kind of Grace do you need to move from Exodus or exile to a posture of embrace?
[00:44:52] I actually love this world. The way God has called us to to embrace this world to choose this world to seek its flourishing not for your sake but for your neighbors knowing that in Christ, you are perfectly safe. Not a Roman [00:45:07] Cross or an Assassin’s bullet can ever separate you from the love of God in Christ. And so you have been set free we have been set free.
To love the world as he has loved us.
Let me pray.
[00:45:24] our heavenly father
I pray for this church for my sister’s and brother’s here in this place that you have put them that they would be equipped.
[00:45:39] to love sacrificially
to bring flourishing and goodness
every home and school and office and hospital and every place they go in this community.
[00:45:55] I pray Lord that you would set them free from Fear.
They may walk in Freedom and joy and truly be that City on a Hill that light in the Darkness.
I pray that there would be a new [00:46:10] birth of Grace in this place.
So that many come to see you as you are.
Recognize the love you have for them through us.
[00:46:25] We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit as one God now and forever. Amen. The holy post podcast is a production of Phil vischer Enterprises. That’s Phil’s [00:46:40] company and Sky pilot media that Sky’s company production assistants by Sean McDuffie edited by Jason rug help us create more thoughtful Christian Media by supporting us at patreon.com forward slash. Holy post. Also be sure to leave a [00:46:55] review on iTunes. So more people can discover thoughtful Christian commentary plus ukulele and occasional but news