Rachel Held Evans, author and blogger of her eponymous blog, has become something of a torchbearer for a generation of angsty young adults fed-up with traditional, conservative evangelicalism. Her asserting, insisting voice typically comes hot on the heals of a traditional, conservative move/position/posture she thinks is a bozo move/position/posture.
Enter a blog post from several years ago that drew lots of attention and accolades: How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation.
In it, she rails against pastors and lay Christians who were in large ways behind the recent Amendment One movement in North Caroline that sought and successfully amended the state constitution to define marriage between a man and a woman. Here is a little of what she said (bold and italics hers):
But every single student I have spoken with believes that the Church has mishandled its response to homosexuality.
Most have close gay and lesbian friends.
Most feel that the Church’s response to homosexuality is partly responsible for high rates of depression and suicide among their gay and lesbian friends, particularly those who are gay and Christian.
Most are highly suspicious of “ex-gay” ministries that encourage men and women with same-sex attractions to marry members of the opposite sex in spite of their feelings.
Most feel that the church is complicit, at least at some level, in anti-gay bullying.
My generation is tired of the culture wars.
We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.
And when it comes to homosexuality, we no longer think in the black-and-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Amendment One hurts like hell.
Regardless of whether you identify most with Side A or Side B, (or with one of the many variations within those two broad categories), it should be clear that amendments like these needlessly offend gays and lesbians, damage the reputation of Christians, and further alienate young adults—both Christians and non-Christian—from the Church.
Now let me grant something straight out: I’m sick of the Church—conservative and liberal—vying for power in the interest of having a seat at the political table. I worked for one of the architects of the Moral Majority and had a nice cozy perch at the intersection of Church and State. I’ve had enough experiences to vomit several lifetimes over at seeing the way the Church whores herself to both political parties and how the State uses the Church further its own powerful, political ends. I’m also with her and others that are tired of the powerful tactics used by the Church to win.
So I get it. I really do. The Church has everything She needs to transform people and culture through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s beyond me why the Church still thinks She needs Obama or Bush or the Supremes or an Amendment to bring the type of lasting, deep down Kingdom transformation that can only come when someone is rescued and re-created in Christ.
Again, I get it. But let’s use a little discernment here and not totally write off prophetic cultural engagement! Because the reality is, gay marriage is not a political issue, it’s a moral and spiritual issue. And that makes it a gospel issue.
Earlier in the week I wrote a short post that, surprisingly, resonated with several people. I made the claim, and I think exposed the reality, that while progressive, liberal Christians make gay marriage a justice issue it isn’t in light of how the Holy Scriptures speak of justice. Their view of justice is Rawlsian, not Christian, because they incorrectly assume justice is fairness, when in reality justice is righteousness, defined by the character of God and the way things are supposed to be.
The consensus throughout the Holy Scriptures and the historic Christian faith is that homosexual practice is not the way it’s supposed to be; it’s not righteous, which means that gay marriage is not an issue of justice (note that I am not talking about inclination or attraction, here, as being sinful). And that also means that gay marriage is a moral and spiritual issue, because that’s what the Holy Scriptures make it to be. Therefore, gay marriage is a gospel issue, because the gospel is concerned with rescuing people from their rebellion in any form and re-creating that which is not the way it’s supposed to be.
And that’s why Rachel Held Evans, and others like her, are wrong: They seem to assume that the Church cannot bear prophetic witness at any level to this cultural issue. By the looks of this post, it seems as if any word from the Church that calls homosexual practice (marriage or otherwise) as wrong and unrighteous is anti-gay bullying born out of a narrow, black-and-white, outdated view of the world. The Church should be ashamed of any proclamation that offends gays and lesbians or the broader culture, especially because it will in turn further alienate young adults from the Church.
The problem is that it’s absolutely impossible for the Church to do anything other than proclaim, because She is by nature a proclaiming entity—the Bride of Jesus Christ can neither be silent nor ashamed when people vandalize the shalom of God, the way Creation itself is supposed to be. She must unashamedly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to rescue and re-create those who vandalize. The same goes for homosexual practice and gay marriage. This is a gospel issue because it’s a moral issue, because it is not the way it’s supposed to be.
We, the Church, have something to say because God Himself had something to say, and we should not be ashamed of say it. It’s called revelation, and the Church is charged with proclaiming that revelation inside and outside the Church. As Karl Barth said, the church proclaims God’s revelation—the Word of God—through preaching and sacrament, the aim of both is to attest to God’s revelation, reconciliation, and calling; “Proclamation is human language in and through which God Himself speaks.” ((CD 1.1:57, 61-62)) “Like a king through the mouth of his herald,” ((CD, 1.1:57)) the Church is to unashamedly speak God’s revelation before all people. So while the tactics of the Church are certainly disagreeable—vying for a powerful solution to a moral, spiritual problem itself is not the way the Church is supposed to be—the responsibility of the Church to unashamedly proclaim God’s revelation is not.
What’s more: the love of Christ itself compels us to unashamedly proclaim. Paul makes it clear in 2 Cor 5 that God is making his appeal to the entire world through us to be reconciled to Himself, in all of our acts of rebellion which stand between us and God. And while it may seem crazy to counterculturally, unashamedly say gay marriage is not the way it’s supposed to be, the love of Christ in us and displayed on the cross should compel us to do so. Saying so isn’t an act of bulling or bigotry; it’s an act of love. The greatest act of love the Church can give the world is to unashamedly proclaim the gospel, which confronts any vandalizing act with the call to repentance and hope of rescue and re-creation in Christ.
At the end of the day does it really matter whether or not young adults have close gay and lesbian friends, are suspicious of reparative therapy, and believe the Church is complicit in anti-gay bullying? It’s no surprise that young adults favor same-sex marriage by 59%, so it makes sense they would view any and all of the Church’s proclamation in favor of God’s revelation concerning marriage and sexuality with derision—they certainly did so a generation ago during the free-loving 60’s and 70’s! Again, while I understand how the tactics of the Church regarding this issue bear some responsibility for young adult responses to the Church, it seems that any proclamatory act by the Church will be condemned as unloving, hateful, bigoted.
So, what is the Church to do? The same thing She has always done throughout Her existence: boldly, unashamedly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. No, Rachel Held Evans, the Church cannot “lay down her arms” and ashamedly remain silent on this issue, because this issue is a gospel issue because it is a moral and spiritual issue. The real lives of real people and their real eternal outcomes are at stake for living a life that is not the way it’s supposed to be—and I’m not singling homosexual practice out as any more vandalizing of an act as other acts of rebellion against God. Not at all; it isn’t. But it is a contemporary issue that demands the Church’s unashamed, prophetic proclamatory response, because this moral, spiritual issue is a gospel issue.
Proclamation is one of the central responsibilities of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is human language in and through which God Himself speaks, as proclamation is in service to the Word of God and gospel good news concerning rescue and re-creation in and through the Word. It is only in that faithful service to the Word, Jesus Christ, a new generation will be won. Cultural accommodation and moral silence will not win a generation. Countercultural, unashamed gospel proclamation will. Because as one person wrote once: the gospel is the power of God that brings rescue and re-creation to everyone who believes, for in the gospel the way God intends things to be by nature of His design and demand is exposed and brought to light. And that includes marriage and sexuality.