I took physics in college as an architecture student, and learned that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Likely true in the world of matter, but this week evangelicals managed to prove that Newton’s law bears no resemblance to realities when it comes to the ugly science of ecclesiology, which is ostensibly the study of the church, but often in reality is the study of how humanity has messed with the church by taking the beautiful mystery of Christ’s bride and body and adding it’s own sorry cocktail of arrogance, violence, indulgence, often baptized in God language and waiving the flag of Jesus. The results down through history have not been pretty. Papal power grabs. The thirty years war. Ugly admixtures of church and state. Crusades. Colonization and land grabs. Catholics hating on Martin Luther. Martin Luther hating on the Anabaptists of the radical reformation, and so it goes.
You’d think we’d maybe have learned something, and I still hope some of us have. But the responses surrounding this week’s World Vision declaration is a sorry reminder that we have o so very far to go before we show the world the character of Jesus through our collective organizations and institutions. For the three of you who are unaware, World Vision has decided to “hire gay Christians (who are) in same-sex marriages“. In an attempt to avoid an outpouring of vitriol at the hands of fellow Christians, and to clarify his position, Stearns said:
“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there. This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support….We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us. This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church.”
This makes perfect sense and is in keeping with World Vision’s “non ruling” on other potentially divisive issues, such as baptism, divorce and remarriage, and the ordination of women. Their mission is to care for the poor of the world and to do so in Jesus name, and they ask their employees to subscribe to the historic faith articulated in the apostle’s creed. There are people who subscribe to the creed who land on both sides of numerous theological practices; pacifism and war, alcohol use, and all the issues listed above. World Vision has created a big tent, where Christ followers from different faith traditions can focus on their mission to serve the poor and vulnerable of the world, because Jesus does that.
If the action of declaring that WV will hire gay married Christians was tantamount to tossing a snowball, the reaction of the church at large has been nothing short of an avalanche; disproportionate, and filled with destructive power. Franklin Graham declares that “it’s obvious World Vision doesn’t believe the Bible”. WV can, in Graham’s mind, not have a position on any of the faith practice issues listed above, accepting into their fold the divorced, the indebted, the teetotalers and drinkers, those with patriarchal views and the egalitarianists, without any problem. But not having a position on this single issue suddenly makes them, in a sweeping condemnation, an organization that doesn’t believe the Bible. Denny Burke of the Southern Baptists tweets “Good bye World Vision”. Some pastors are encouraging their congregants to cancel child sponsorships in protest. Boom! An avalanche of protest is directed at WV right now, reminiscent of the hundreds of other notable doctrine wars among Christians that make us look more like fighting political parties than Jesus. Meanwhile, the words of Jesus about us being known by our love for one another and our unity recede to the background as, somehow, we collectively show the world that its more important to argue, accuse, and boycott, than serve.
The point I’d like to make isn’t about gay marriage. It’s about how we treat each other as Christ followers. And here’s what we might consider:
I. We all have convictions – and we’re all Learning
We pastors need to make rulings on things like divorce and remarriage, and whether or not women can be pastors, and whether or not we should offer sanction to a same sex wedding by performing it. We who lead in churches might not even want to land on certain positions, but we don’t have that luxury. Either woman can be pastors or they can’t in some given setting. This forces us to shape our convictions on various issues, and as a result, we hold those convictions, and uphold those convictions.
And yet, I don’t think I’m the only one who has changed my view on this or that ethical issue over the years. My changes have come through careful study, prayerful consideration, conversation, and consideration of an issue within the larger context of a faith community. The fact that I’ve changed on this, and not on that, means that my understanding of my faith is continuing to grow, even while I live out my convictions.
I need convictions, and the courage to uphold them. But I also need the humility to recognize that, though I have good reasons for my convictions, there are people on the other side of an issue who also have good reasons for their convictions. They serve in a different part of Christ’s body, where they have the freedom to live out their convictions, even as I have freedom to live out mine.
There should be a way, though, to express our differences without the indicting weight of accusation dividing Christ followers again and again. World Vision isn’t even saying they have a position on the issue of gay marriage, which is their prerogative since they don’t do weddings (though I, as a pastor, don’t have that same prerogative). In spite of this, the word rolls out, from other faith organizations, that WV “no longer believes the Bible”.
It’s one thing to say, “I disagree with you on this single issue… and here’s why.” It’s another to hold up your single issue as evidence that you’re a heretic and that you don’t believe anything the Bible has to say. WOW! I thought we were beyond that.
II. Because we’re all learning – we should dialogue
The Bible talks about iron sharpening iron, and it’s a metaphor of the healthy friction of disagreement which, in its best iterations will lead to greater fellowship and eventually, more clarity with respect to matters of faith and practice. This can only happen in an environment where we drop our accusatory tone and verbal weapons, instead beginning with the notion that this other with whom we are speaking loves Christ as we do, in spite of our differences on a particular issue. When this happens, we’re challenged, frustrated, enlightened, and even if we don’t change our view a single inch, informed.
The early church wrestled with all kinds of issues and Paul seemed to indicate that there would be room for disagreement on some things without calling another’s faith into question, or worse, presuming that the other has lost his/her faith completely. There’s an example here, and another here. In both instances, Paul calls for grace and love to rule the day. Of course, it’s equally true that the early church came into clarity on various ethical issues and drew a line in the sand. You don’t sleep with your step-mom, for example, and expect the church to be OK with it. You don’t treat sex as just another appetite, like food. That misrepresents sexuality utterly. But holding slaves? Letting woman speak in church? Allowing a divorced and remarried person to serve in the church? Whether the earth is six thousand years old or 14 billion year old? Can you at least see that, in all these cases, there are two views – and people on both sides believe in the resurrection and in Jesus as the way, truth, and life. This should create an environment of robust and healthy dialogue, but our insecurities and combative natures creep in instead, creating embarrassing discord.
We’d do well to repent, collectively, for this kind of arrogant divisiveness.
III. Because we’re all learning – both sides need to offer grace
I’m so very tired of hearing from the left that those who won’t perform same sex weddings are bigots and haters, tantamount to abusive slave owners of the 19th century. Can you grant the possibility that they’re trying to be faithful to revealed scripture, even if you don’t agree with their conclusions? I’m equally tired of the right presuming that all who have said yes to same sex unions aren’t just making what they view is a misinformed decision on a single issue. They are utter heretics. Can you not grant that they too might be rooted in a desire to be faithful to what God’s revealed even if you don’t agree with them?
The early churches in Corinth and Galatia couldn’t be more different than each other. Gentile vs. Jewish. Cosmopolitan vs. somewhat provincial. Liberal vs. Legalistic. Both needed correction. Both missed the mark. Both received corrective words from Paul. But what’s most striking to me is that Paul asked the liberal, cosmopolitan, Gentile Corinthians to take an offering for the legalistic provincial Galatian church. Instead of tweeting “good bye Corinth” Paul begged them to share fellowship, because after all, they loved the same Jesus, worshiped the same God.
Instead, today people are cancelling sponsorships to World Vision because of their “non ruling” on gay marriage. A snowball gets buried by an avalanche.
If you simply must know my view on gay marriage, I’ve written about it elsewhere, but as I said at the outset, this isn’t a post about homosexuality; it’s about how we’re killing each other and our testimony through our inability to love each and disagree charitably. I stopped writing about homosexuality because my words were taken out of context and the comments people offered were so hateful that made me sick.
I believe there’s one right view on every ethical issue – God’s view, not mine.
In the meantime, until I know everything perfectly, I’ll preach Christ, live out the convictions I have, and seek to disagree charitably with those whose view is different than mine. And, because my sponsored child in Albania just wants to keep going to school so she can move out of poverty, I’ll keep sponsoring her.