Political Shift and the Church’s Response

On June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court voted to legalize same-sex marriage in America. More specifically, the court ruled that it is unconstitutional for states to ban or not recognize same-sex marriage.

Quite honestly, I was not surprised at the decision. I had heard about the upcoming deliberation and that it would go before the Supreme Court in June, and I had almost no doubt that same-sex marriage would be legalized. For one, my own state (North Carolina) had recently legalized same-sex marriage in October 2014; but more importantly (and perhaps I speak for everyone in my generation or younger), I was not surprised at the SCOTUS decision because culture had already shifted in that direction. The government was simply playing catch-up.

The culture had already spoken. For years culture had been yelling at politicians, begging for legislation to accurately reflect public opinion, and it finally came to fruition. If you were even minutely involved in the culture – watched a little television, were periodically on social media, listened to the radio, watched the news, actually had friends who were unbelievers, etc. – then you knew that same-sex marriage was inevitable. For you and me, June 26th came as no surprise.

It is no surprise because culture can foresee the political future.

What does this say about politics and culture? It demonstrates that the former serves the latter – that culture is upstream from politics. Political change is preceded by cultural change. As William Kynes noted in his article, culture has been noticeably leading up to the current view of marriage for the past fifty years. [1] Kynes began with the 1960s and the ‘sexual revolution,’ where sex was no longer coupled to procreation, and marriage was stripped of one of its most intimate idiosyncrasies. There began a rise in cohabitation, which statistically increased children out of wedlock, single parents, and divorce. Flash forward to 1985 when ‘no-fault’ divorce was instituted (the first act was signed by Ronald Reagan in 1969, by the way), and it becomes apparent that the ideals behind marriage had shifted from legal and moral responsibility to personal fulfillment and happiness. Kynes exposed that the present day prevalence of same-sex marriage is the culmination of the morphed cultural ideals of the past. The church must recognize this progression, because it will greatly impact the way that it addresses the decision that was made on June 26th.

How is the church responding?

Ever since the ruling back in June, the evangelical church has responded in a variety of ways. However, it appears that two of the most popular responses are rooted in fundamentalism, and these responses are unfortunately motivated by functional ideologies that are anti-gospel.

The church can respond (as some already are) by mobilizing the Christian takeover of politics. This project is referred to by sociologists as fundamentalist totalitarianism. [2] They will host rallies, issue battle cries, and call for Christians to run for every political office in order to win back the Christian nation and control the culture. Now, there is nothing wrong with Christians getting involved in politics. Some might even be surprised to know that professing Christians currently control congress and have controlled congress for a very long time (probably since 1789). By all means, Christians should absolutely be involved with politics. However, the church must recognize that political change is preceded by cultural change. Christians need to get upstream to construct influence to change the very composition of culture. I cringe at the thought that our political-voice is dominating these moral conversations – ‘dominating’ in the sense of eradicating our chance to dialog further and deeper than these issues. We have committed our politics to be a discussion of ethics. We have prioritized moral issues as the primary focus of our legislative efforts, and this is important and right; but we are fighting the battle (more like gawking as we lose the battle) and losing sight of the war. If Christians ‘win’ the legislative battles on these moral issues, where will we be and where will our nation be? Good laws do not make good people. Good laws are certainly better than bad laws, and this is why we petition for good laws; but we cannot allow our legislative agenda to be the sum of our social activism.

The church can also respond (as some already are) by withdrawing from the culture. This project is referred to by sociologists as fundamentalist sectarianism. [3] They create self-isolated subcultures, cut off communication with the outside world, and build walls of propositions that are mostly negational in character – e.g. we do not believe that, we do not agree with that, we do not do that, etc. Currently, fundamentalist sectarianism is manifesting itself in the form of boycotts, where they issue statements that they will no longer support ‘such and such’ because ‘such and such’ either directly or indirectly supported the Supreme Court’s decision on June 26th. Now, capitalism does permit you the right to spend your money wherever you like; and if your conscience is corrupted by buying an iced coffee from Starbucks, then that is your American right and spiritual trial. I am not condemning any Christian for not supporting those organizations that support same-sex marriage. However, in all honesty, is such a decision motivated by a sincere desire to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What is motivating our response?

Christians have been given a higher calling, having been commissioned to make disciples (Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-16). From this calling and our current battles, the questions arise: Are we fighting these legislative battles in order to better make disciples, or are we fighting these battles out of care and concern for our own camp? Truly stop and pause, meditate on our intentions: Are we simply arguing against our own marginalization? Are we seeking the well-being of our society in the same motion of seeking its ultimate aim – the restoration of all things through the transforming Lordship of Jesus Christ (cf. Rev. 21:5)? Are we battling from a loving spirit of conviction or from a self-centered desire for prosperity in the form of comfort? Are we trying to control society or love our neighbors? How we answer these questions reveal a great deal about our Christianity!

It seems to me that neither fundamentalist projects are motivated by the gospel. They both appear to be motivated by an egocentric concern for their own camp’s comfort. In the fundamentalist’s agenda, culture is seen as leper to be shunned or a monster for which we must gather a mob and pitchforks. Jesus had other intentions for his followers (John 17:15). Christians are not to be controlled by fear (Isaiah 41:10; Philippians 1:27-30), have their emotions manipulated by false alarms of defeat (Romans 8:31-39), or be persuaded by big-headed, end-times-doom-and-gloom theology. We are not called to cower or run for cover. God has placed eternity in our eyes (1 Corinthians 4:16-18; Colossians 3:2), where hope is an eternally fruitful vine that produces peace, self-control, sobriety, prayer, and love (1 Peter 4:7-11).

The issues that seemingly plague our country are symptomatic of our culture’s ultimate need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we are frightened or disgusted by the symptoms, however daunting they may be, we must not allow those symptoms to distract or deter us from addressing the causal disease. If we truly love the individual, then we will pursue their healing despite how much their symptomatic condition makes us uncomfortable. I am not advocating for the total victimization of the culture, but I do believe that we are better equipped to respond with love for our neighbor when we realize that their primary need is for Jesus Christ.

[1] William L. Kynes, “The Marriage Debate: a Public Theology of Marriage,” Trinity Journal 28, no. 2 (2007): 187-190.

[2] Peter L. Berger, ed., Between Relativism and Fundamentalism: Religious Resources for a Middle Position (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2010), 9.

[3] Ibid., 9.

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