Losing the (Cultural) Battle; Winning the War

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that gay marriage will now be legal in all 50 states. This ruling overturns the laws in over thirty states. But even in states where gay marriage was already legal, the courts overruled the will of the people. This decision marks a huge change in the life of our republic. Yet, honestly, it is hard for me to get worked up about because this change has been telegraphed since the mid 90s, and the failed strategies of Christians have made this change inevitable. Gay marriage arrived as predicted and precisely on schedule.

Somewhere in the mid 90s, Christian radio stations lit up the airwaves with activists panicking about the threat of gay marriage. There was no immediate threat, but the threat was looming on the horizon. Opinion polls surveying my generation and younger showed that a tidal wave was forming in the way that we perceived homosexuality. Most of the American population held to one of two views. One view was that homosexuality is an unfortunate mental disorder and those who suffer from it deserve sympathy. The other view is that homosexuality is a sin that requires repentance. But my generation was sold the narrative that homosexuality is genetically hard-wired and therefore morally neutral. Gay rights are equivalent to civil rights. Gays are therefore entitled to serve in the military, adopt children, and get married.

The strategy to combat this narrative was almost entirely legal and preemptive in nature. It was stressed that we cannot wait for this demographic shift to happen. Christians had better organization. We had churches, para-churches, radio and lobby groups. We still had a sizable majority of the American public on our side, and that majority was scheduled to shrink a little bit every year. We must strike first by passing laws and constitutional amendments in order to preserve traditional marriage. Curiously, these Christians took for granted that this demographic shift was going to happen, and nothing could be done to stop it.

I remember thinking that this was a disastrous strategy and doomed for failure. Gay marriage was legal nowhere. Such proactive laws or constitutional amendments guaranteed that these laws and amendments would be fought in the courts. The courts are historically more progressive than the general public. This would be Roe v. Wade all over again. This strategy was going to fast-track gay marriage in the United States. I was proved right. Even in a liberal state like California the voters passed a law banning gay marriage, which was overturned by the courts. Then we passed a constitutional amendment that was also overturned by the courts – declaring gay marriage to be legal by judicial fiat. No law required! This same story played out our most conservative states like Kansas where gay marriage was opposed by 70% of the voters.

This strategy was disastrous for a second reason. If this demographic change was really unavoidable then no law or amendment could stop it. Laws and amendments can be repealed or changed. Remember prohibition? If there was a legal strategy that we needed to pursue it needed to be a defensive strategy that strengthened the rights of churches and ministers to freely practice their religion according to the principles of their faith. But really, our strategy needed to focus on moral persuasion rather than legal coercion. We needed to win the hearts and minds of my generation with reasoned argument.

The only moral arguments I heard were exclusively from the Bible, and it was never clear why these arguments should be persuasive to those who were not evangelical Christians. More critically, however, even evangelical Christians did not understand why our Christian morality should transfer to public policy in our secular society. Young Christians were asking, “How does this affect me? Isn’t it like wanting to outlaw doughnuts just because I’m on a diet?”

Furthermore, Christians insisted on defining sexual orientation as a “choice,” which made it seem like it was a simple choice like deciding what cereal to have for breakfast or whether or not you felt like knocking off a liquor store that day. The language of “choice” ran counter to the experience of those with same sex attraction and was easily ridiculed by the public. It certainly didn’t explain why some professing Christians struggle with same sex attraction.

In my senior year of college we had course called Senior Seminar. The idea of the course was to integrate knowledge from the various academic disciplines. It is a great idea since academic study is often narrow, specialized and fragmented. We were assigned to write a research paper that integrated various disciplines: science, history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology. After thinking about the assignment for a while I reluctantly concluded that the issue of homosexuality was a perfect subject to be studied by all these disciplines.

Although the popular media assumed that sexual orientation was genetically hard-wired and determined from birth, I found that the academic literature drew a different picture. Masters and Johnson surveyed the twin studies and all the other studies that had been done to discover a genetic cause of inversion. They concluded that there was still no evidence that such behavior was biologically determined. All the evidence pointed away from that. When I turned to gay writers like philosopher Michael Foucault, Denise Altman and Judith Butler, I found that they had little use for genetic theories. Rather, they argued that sexualities are socially constructed identities that we assume. Certainly, the stereotype of the flamboyant, lisping man is part of an identity that is developed and acted out. The language of identity is similar to the language of choice, but it is more accurate because one’s identity is formed out of the sum of all our choices, influenced by the cocktail of our life-experiences, in a way that feels inevitable or even determined.

History and sociology provided many supporting examples. The pan-sexuality of ancient Greece is an obvious example. To this we may add that even among straight people the dizzying array of fetishes and changing standards of beauty from decade to decade and from culture to culture illustrate the incredible plasticity of human sexuality. This was a powerful refutation of the lie my generation was sold: namely that same sex attraction affects one to three percent of the population – it always has and it always will – so we might as well make peace and accept it.

I saw that that all the evidence was in essential agreement with the Bible. The Bible adds only the value judgment. It is sin contrary to God’s purpose and design and against our natural functions. I later discovered Camille Paglia, a bisexual feminist professor who wrote a scathing takedown of the Presbyterian Church USA when they caved on this issue. I think her essay was called “The Joy of Presbyterian Sex.” She agreed that the Biblical and traditional Christian view was essentially correct. Her sexuality was in defiance of nature. Nature imposes it’s tyranny over us by choosing some to be male and some female. The joy of gay sex is it’s illicit rebellion against nature and the normal social order. Now, she argued, these idiot Presbyterians are trying to sanitize us with their sanctimonious views, and they want to impose on us family values like monogamy. They think that it is like a gay version of the movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Sidney Portiere, Mr. Smooth and perfect, recast as queer.

As a college senior there was one wrench in my argument. Geneticist Dean Hamer believed that he had discovered the “gay gene” and he published his study in Scientific American. It made the front page of TIME magazine and I think that the impression on the general public was that this matter is now settled. I found some peer reviews that made provisional criticisms of the study. I cited these concerns and emphasized how his study ran contrary to other lines of evidence. Several years later Canadian researchers discovered that Dean Hamer’s study was fraudulent. But that story didn’t make the cover of TIME magazine. Dean Hamer, a gay man and an atheist, published a new study called “the God gene.” No science journal would publish it; and Scientific American heaped scorn and ridicule on Dr. Hamer and his new study.

Even as Lady Gaga dropped her album “Born This Way,” the cultural is moving away from the language of determination and toward the language of “identity” and “choice.” Millennials understand this better than Gen X and older. For a long time the LBGTQ community had a problem with the B, T and Q. They understood that to sell this to the general public, the straight community had to believe that sexuality was binary. You are either born straight or gay and most people will be born straight. You can’t be both gay and straight! Of course, the Bs, Ts and Qs disagree.

So where do we go from here? First, I suggest that we not panic. The culture war has been going on since Genesis 3. Many Christians are decrying the present cultural decline, but we should remember that our country’s founding was steeped in the genocide of indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans and the multitude of evils that accompanied that. Our national crimes are many. We should remind ourselves that many unbiblical views of sex and marriage are already protected by law. This only adds one more to a long list, and it is no worse than the others. Pornography is legal. Premarital sex is legal. Having children out of wedlock is legal. No fault divorce is legal. Christians are accustomed to dealing compassionately with people who have been entangled by these sins, offering to sinners the love, grace, forgiveness and acceptance of Jesus Christ, all without compromising the Biblical standard of righteousness. We will learn to deal with the sin of homosexuality in a loving and compassionate way, yet in a way that still requires repentance.

But what about religious liberty? I think the real reason that this decision scares so many Christians is that we fear that the end game is to take away our religious liberty to agree with the Bible. Is that day coming? I honestly don’t know. Some pastors are arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision was right and we Christians should distinguish between civil marriage and creation marriage. It’s not the job of the government to enforce “Biblical morality.” I think, by the way, that they are equivocating on the phrase “Biblical morality.” Marriage is a common grace institution. It doesn’t belong to the church. Therefore, creation marriage is civil marriage. I digress. These pastors assure us that our 1st Amendment rights are guarded and that this decision won’t affect us. In the short term I think they are right. But things change, and they can change rapidly.

My biggest concern, however, is for the integrity of the church. Will the church have the courage to teach views that are not popular? The evangelical stand against sins like abortion, pornography, premarital sex or no fault divorce gives us reason to be optimistic. But the evangelical tradition that took such stands had some theological grounding. But now several generations of youth have been catechized by games and rock’n praise choruses and they are floating rudderless in a sea of modernity. So, what will happen to the church in America? I don’t know. But I know that God is Lord of his church and he has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

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The Bible is Drama and Doctrine

Eugene Peterson, in his new volume “Eat This Book” follows Karl Barth and the so-called neo-orthodox brand of liberal theology, by pitting the dramatic story of the Bible against a dogmatic, propositional reading of the Bible. But the Bible is drama and doctrine. The Christian doctrine emerges from the saga of Redemptive History.

The Bible contains doctrine though it cannot be reduced to doctrine as if it were a systematic theology text book. Luther in “the Bondage of the Will” argued persuasively that Christianity is a religion of assertions and assertions are essential to Christianity. If you take away assertions/propositions you take away Christianity. If you take away doctrinal statements, nothing is left of Christianity.

Dr. Michael Horton rightly recognizes that the Christian doctrine arise out of this dramatic plot. This dramatic plot is an unfolding revelation of our Triune God working to save us from our sins. God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the world in the space of six days and all very good. On the sixth day, God created man in his image and likeness, placed him in the Garden of Eden and set life and death before him. If Adam would eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. Adam was supposed to tend and keep the garden and eventually eat the fruit from the tree of life.  Adam’s wife Eve gave into the serpent’s temptation and chose to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam chose death, following his wife, and ate the fruit of the very tree God had commanded him not to eat. Through this one man, sin, death and corruption entered into the world. Adam’s guilt before God, and his corrupt nature would be passed on to all his children. From there beginning in Genesis 3:15 God cursed the serpent and indirectly promised Adam and Eve that he would send a savior, to save them from ultimate death, eternal punishment in hell. Scripture then proceeds as an unfolding drama where God, who exists in three persons Father Son and Holy Spirit, would work out in history a way to bring man to a right relationship with God and attain eternal life, by faith.

Scripture is filled with, poetry, narrative, apocalyptic imagery and Scripture communicates a doctrine and life. Scripture is for our salvation. The Bible teaches us all those things necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation. The Bible teaches these things in a way that anyone who makes diligent use of ordinary means can attain to a saving knowledge of the Gospel.

It is true that Scripture is not merely doctrine, but scripture is not less than doctrine. Paul is clear when he tells Timothy to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the doctrine. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16) and to “follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me” (2 Tim 1:13). And Jude, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

This has significance for the way we read Scripture.  We should read Scripture so that we might come to a saving knowledge of God, the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit and their Trinitarian work for us that we receive by faith alone. Basically put, we read Scripture so that we might know God, receive eternal life and grow in grace. We read so that we might live a life that is pleasing to God, glorifying him before the world. If we are to know God know God and live a life that honors him, we must have an understanding about God. To know God is to know something about God. To know something about God is doctrine. Without doctrine, knowledge about God, it is really silly to say that I know God. We are to have a child like faith, but not a childish faith. So reading for understanding involves engagement, reflection and practice. We are to engage ourselves in the unfolding drama, so that we might reflect on its meaning and significance for our lives and the life of the church in the world. Then we must seek to live in light of this new understanding.  Through engaging Scripture, reflecting upon its meaning and significance with an eye toward practice we come to know God in a saving way. In this way, engagement, reflection, and practice we are not merely hearing the word and walking away forgetting what we heard having only a faint impression of it, but we become doers of the word with a mature understanding of who God is and how we might glorify him everyday.