Monday, June 29, 2015

When In Rome

There's a stir among Christians in America these days, and it's coming from the Supreme Court's decision last Friday to make gay marriage not illegal in all 50 states.

Many Christians are afraid of what this means for them, for their churches, for their God. They are already fighting battles that haven't been started. They are spewing fear and hate, rather than love and peace. The questions, admittedly, are more than the answers right now. There's so much, as people of faith, that we cannot really know about the implications of this court ruling.

But here's what we do know:

We know that Jesus Himself lived in the times of one of the most powerful governments in all of history, more powerful even than present-day America. We know that the people He spoke to in His everyday ministry were captives of this government system. They were required to pay their taxes. They were required to serve their armies. They were required to praise their acclaim.

The only meaningful role this government played in Jesus' story, in the very redemption of the world, is that they killed Him.

And yet, knowing this - knowing how this government ruled over the people, knowing how oppressive it could be, knowing that these would be the people who would hang Him on a Cross - Jesus spent exactly none of His ministry trying to change the government.

He spent His entire ministry trying to change the people. 

He taught them how to live within the confines of the Romans. To whom do you pay taxes? Well, Caesar's face is on the coin; pay them to him. If a soldier forces you to go one mile? Well, go two. If the government allows you to loan to your brother with interest? Forget the interest. As Paul would later say, just because it is permissible does not mean it is beneficial. Or to put it another way, just because you can doesn't mean you should.

But Jesus really only spent some of His time teaching such things. Most of His time, He spent teaching His people simply how to live. Not inside a government or outside of it. Just in general. How to live with one another. How to live with Him. How to live with peace. How to love each other. 

I think right about now, we could all use a refresher course in this. The question is not how we're supposed to live in increasingly sinful America. The question is how we are supposed to live in increasingly sinful hearts. 

The question is not what we are supposed to do with this gross distortion of romantic love. The question is how we're going to manifest God's love. 

A lot of Christians I know are upset right now. They want to know how we're supposed to change this, how we're supposed to get back to a time when this country valued God. When our leaders took their moral cue from the Scriptures and not the streets. fill in the blank. But I think the lesson of Jesus here answers that question for us. 

We don't have to live in a country that values God in order to love Him. The country Jesus lived in killed Him. It didn't stop His love. We don't have to change the laws of our land in order to be able to serve God here. Even if the government eliminates our tax breaks, oppresses our ministers, closes our churches, and persecutes the faithful, it does not change our ability, or our call, to serve God. It makes it harder, sure, but welcome to the masses of the faithful. Faith is the discipline of serving God even when it's hard.

If your God is threatened right now, He's not big enough.

But there's another caution here, too, that cannot be ignored. And it, too, comes from Jesus under Rome. And it's this: we can't bend too far toward our state.

Jesus spoke to tax collectors and told them that even if the government permitted their deceitful practices, they shouldn't do it. Even though it was expected of them, it was not pleasing to the Lord. Even though it was man's law, even if unwritten, it was not God's law. 

In the days since the ruling, I have seen many ordained friends come out and offer their services for gay ceremonies. I appreciate what you're trying to do. You think this is love. And it is loving. But who are you working for? Is your ordination a gift of God or a mere recognition from the state? (I know. In this complicated world, it's both.) God is clear about His concept of marriage, and if you are doing the work of God, you have to hold marriage to this standard. Unpopular, yes, but if you don't hold to God on this, how can you expect anyone to believe what you say about God anywhere else? You can't pick and choose what God says and doesn't say. If the ordained among us, if God's chosen and called ministers, become agents of the state, performing ceremonies in direct opposition to God's clear guidance on this issue...we lose our voice for God in the world. Church is no different than Costco. It's a place where we go and talk about God but God means very little because He looks so much like the world. So as unpopular as it may be, we have to hold firm to what God says when He speaks clearly and repeatedly on this issue. 

You can talk about God's love all day long, but if you don't also talk about God's truth, what good does His love do?

There's a lot of mess right now, and there's no easy way through it. But what I'm seeing from the Christian community disheartens me right now. And you'll notice that this has nothing to do with my personal feelings on the LGBT community. Of course we love them. That much is clear. The question is: how do we love them

And the answer is neither by fighting nor by caving in. 

It feels so strange, this world we now live in. I admit it. It feels like a parallel universe. Like a timeshift. Like the strange days of so long ago and yet, like something eerily new. Thankfully, Jesus has already shown us what we're supposed to do here. 

We're supposed to love. 

And He's shown us how we're supposed to do that. 

By loving God. 

And you can trust when He says that because if anyone knows what it's like to live in a strange land, it's Jesus. The only thing the Romans ever gave Him was a Cross. 

Are we really to expect less?

(Tomorrow, I will share my opinion on the actual issue of homosexuality and gay marriage. You may be surprised what I have to say about the whole thing.)

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