I have mixed emotions about yesterdays Prop 8 ruling. As an intentional follower of Christ, I hold a historic, orthodox, New Testament view of marriage. I am also cognizant of how we (Protestants at least) have allowed any moral authority on this issue to dissipate by collectively allowing our divorce rate to match (and some would say, exceed) that of the larger culture. If we can’t do marriage well, how can we weigh in on others? I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians that we are not to “judge” those outside the church, but that we are to judge ourselves – those of us inside the church (1 Cor 5:12). As active, intentional followers of Christ we would probably be wise to focus on removing the log from our own collective eye (Mat 7:3).
In my view, legislating morality is always Plan B. Plan A, according to my understanding of the Bible, is cultivating and growing in our relationship with Jesus Christ (personally and collectively), growing in sound doctrine, modeling authentic community, and learning how to love. (The first three, BTW, are intended to feed the fourth.)
I appreciate author and pastor Tim Keller’s approach here…In Prodigal God he quotes from The Lord of the Rings – the hobbits asking the ancient Treebeard whose side he is on: “I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side…[But] there are some things, of course, whose side I’m altogether not on.” Keller notes that Jesus’ own answer, through a parable, is similar. Jesus doesn’t pick a side yet singles out religious moralism as a particularly deadly spiritual condition (pg 13). I find religious moralism on both sides of the Prop 8 issue. I would prefer honest respectful dialogue.
In commenting on the Parable of the Prodigal (Keller would say it should be plural), Keller correctly identifies two basic ways people seek happiness: 1) moral conformity and 2) self-discovery. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth, of addressing the ills of society, and for determining right from wrong. The elder brother in the parable illustrates the way of moral conformity, while the younger illustrates the way of self-discovery. Underneath both brothers’ sharply different patterns of behavior is actually the same motivation and aim – using their father to get the things on which their hearts are really fixed. For both, it was the wealth of the father, not the love of the father, that they believed would make them happy and fulfilled (pgs 29-39). (If you’ve found yourself asking, “Why does he title the book Prodigal God? That’s a great question…get the book.)
As I contemplate my life, I have spent various stints as both the younger and elder brother. In both, during my darker moments, I have sought the hand of God and not the heart of God.
Just last night Linda and I were reading a biography of the early church father, Athanasius (don’t ask). He defined sin as an abuse of freedom. We humans, he said, were originally given the ability to know God by looking at the creation (and seeing its otherwise inexplicable order and harmony) and noticing the image of God within ourselves. But we have turned away from the signs of God in creation and ourselves, and turned instead to the things of this world to satisfy ourselves – whether, I would add, it be moral conformity or self-discovery.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Ghandi’s encounter with a respected Christian missionary… Gandhi admired Jesus and often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Once when E. Stanley Jones met with Ghandi he asked him, “Though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Ghandi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Somethings just don’t seem to change. Ann Rice is another, more recent example of someone, who “in the name of Christ,” quit the church.
This is yet another wake-up call for the us (inside the church). Not to react with religious moralism, but to respond with appropriate self-reflection, honesty, repentance, love – and a willingness to dialogue. In the great political cartoon strip of its day, Pogo declared, “We have met the enemy and it is us!”