By now you are aware of our president coming out in favor of gay marriage. It certainly has sparked a landslide of reaction and sometimes heated rhetoric along the expected political divide. Christians, of course, are caught up in the conversation. For many Christians the acceptance of gay marriage is another alarming sign of the cultural shift that is pushing America away from the Christian values of its founding roots.
The latter is the focus of this post- not the gay marriage issue per se.
Whether or not America was ever a truly “Christian nation” remains up for debate. But an objective view of our history does reveal that at periods in our past (perhaps most of the periods in our past) traditional Christian values were respected and integrated into the fiber of our collective identity as a country. As a result Christians have historically enjoyed a seat at the tables of power. Our voice has been an influential one. But now that is changing.
The gay marriage debate illustrates this (along with a long list of other moral and social issues in which Christians find themselves at odds with contemporary culture). As the gay agenda gains acceptance it does so as the political agenda many Christians pursue is falling out of favor. The seat Christians enjoyed at the table of power is now being offered to other groups. In the overall cultural conversation, the Christian message is being systematically legislated out of the public arena. Slowly but surely Christians are now the ones being marginalized.
It isn’t happening without a fight. We call this the “culture wars.” But try as we might, it seems that the traditional Christian perspective is losing ground. Welcome to the strange (to some) new world of “post- Christian America.”
My question is- what do we do now? Now that we are no longer politically correct; now that we can no longer depend upon the political or judicial systems to back up our agendas? Now that we no longer have that seat at the table of power?
Well, I am not convinced that having that seat was such a blessing in the first place. Somehow there is something disconnecting and inconsistent about a kingdom that is “not of this world” which is to operate from a position of the cross partnering up with a kingdom of the world that operates from a position of empire (Don’t misunderstand me. I love my country. But it was never supposed to be the kingdom of God. It is a nation and does what nations do– typically guided by political self-interests, not God.) And look at what that partnership has produced. Most Christians are now stereotyped as right-wing fanatics who are angry and hateful people. Sure, there are many factors (a great many unfair and prejudicial) that have produced this image, but let’s be honest- our forays into power politics have not helped.
So back to my question. What do we do now as a marginalized group of people no longer in the mainstream of cultural thought?
Here is one idea. Instead of “coercion through legislation” let’s try “persuasion through incarnation.” This idea and quote is not original with me. It has all to do with simply faithfully living out the presence of God in our life and community- regardless of what kind of community that is. It is not a new idea. Just journey back to the first century– to what is recorded in the book of Acts.
Here was this little fledgling group- not very well liked by the political players of the day. They were completely powerless, the definition of marginalized, and without major resources. They were far removed from the tables of power. Yet, they prevailed. Their faithfulness in God’s kingdom saw them endure persecution, overcome prejudice, stereotyping, and humiliation to take Jesus triumphantly to their world. They lived “quiet” lives- not of silent desperation but of faithful commitment and celebration. The “shalom of God” reigned in them. Through it all the unstoppable power of God was released within them and literally turned the world upside down- all without help from any political action committee and without any established cultural currency at all.
(Interestingly, when they did get this type of power- after Constantine- it got ugly. Eventually the church became the oppressor forcing people to do its bidding. We now refer to that era as the Dark Ages. This still serves as a vivid reminder of how Christianity can be corrupted by political power.)
So, maybe it is God’s will that his people operate outside of the margins. Maybe we can better represent his values while not sitting at the table of power. Maybe we have lost something in our desire for this seat.
It is also revealing that Jesus– who not only could have claimed any power he wanted, but also had the right to do so– chose not to operate this way. His ministry was totally outside the margins. Recall what he told his disciples who were definitely thinking in terms of rule and power:
You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. (Matthew 20: 25-26 MSG)
We are facing a new reality in America as Christians. Yes, it can be alarming. But it also can be amazing. God is going to continue to reign. Opportunities to share the kingdom message of hope, joy, love, mercy, grace, truth and yes, obedience will abound. God’s Word spoken absent malice, but in love and compassion remains powerful and compelling.
Here is what we must remember: It is not our government’s job to spread this message. It is ours.