One of the challenges that I face in ministry and, indeed, in life, is that there are just some things about God, about the world, about humanity, about persons that I believe. These are non-negotiables for me, and they make up the core of my theology. Often, I have had conversations that tend to go something like this:
I have what you would probably call a conservative theology.
Oh, so you're a bigot.
No. Not at all. When I say that I have a conservative theology, what I mean is that...
You're a bigot.
Again, no. Please do not confuse theology with politics. They are two fundamentally very different things. A conservative theology means that I embrace...
...a biblical view of Jesus, rather than a cultural view of Him. I recognize the ways in which the Jesus of the Scriptures is a dynamic God-man, a full human being with a wide range of emotions and responses and experiences, and I refuse to diminish the God that I see in the Scriptures to merely what our culture is willing to accept of Him or how they have twisted what He intended to be. It means I love fiercely the way that Jesus loved, and that I define that love the way that Jesus did, not the way that culture does.
So you're a bigot. What if I forced you to interact with a homosexual? How would you handle that?
Exactly the way I handle everything else - the way that I believe Jesus would, to the best of my ability. And that means...
Like a bigot.
I promise I am not making this up. And often, this is a conversation I am having with Christians, not with the world. We live in a time that can't imagine the full depth of Jesus and has so caricatured Him that they don't even know who He is any more. If you say you have a conservative view of Jesus and that you hold to a Scriptural understanding of Him, you're lumped in with the political conservatives who invest their lives in legislating morality, which wasn't very Jesus-like at all. On the other hand, our culture is too willing to diminish Him and declare that He was a man of pure love with no standards; He doesn't require anything of you, just loves you with a blanket affirmation of exactly who you are today, turning Him into a man of liberal politics. That's not biblical, either.
Fairly recently, I wrote a bit of what was called a treatise by others on Facebook, in response to a local news station continually reporting a protest scheduled to take place by those disappointed that a Christian school wasn't adhering to the "Christian value of acceptance." Which sounds like, "Gotcha, you hypocrites," but honestly? Acceptance has never been a Christian value. There is no one in all of Scripture that God encounters and decides to leave just as He found them; He wants more for everyone, including you and me. He wants us to grow. He wants us to develop. He wants us to get better every day, more and more sanctified, more and more holy. That's the aim of the Christian life. So to say that Christians ought to be accepting is false, at least the way the world uses the word - which implies a blanket affirmation. We ought to be embracing, welcoming, encouraging - yes. Absolutely. We can't draw lines about who is welcome and who is not. But accepting? Nope. We should never be willing to leave anyone exactly as they are.
We ought to desire wholeness and fullness of life for each and every person we encounter, just the same way that God does.
What my "conservative theology" really means is that I'm not swayed by the cultural winds of this world. I believe there is a way to navigate tricky terrain and murky waters with grace, with authority, with truth, and with love. I know there is because Jesus set an example of just how it's done. I believe we don't have to bow or bend to the world's interpretation of anyone; we can interpret the world through God's eyes and see more if it than it can ever even imagine of itself. I believe I am called to invest myself in the place I've been given and the persons in my community in a way that builds us up toward holiness and that there's not room for me to try separating wheat from chaff; that's not my job.
What my "conservative theology" really means is not that I'm super-busy judging the world, but that I'm super-busy judging myself and the way that I live in accordance with what I believe...and the ways that I fail to live up to that. I'm constantly looking at the Example that I've been given and trying to do better, not by the world's standards, but by the Father's. And that's enough for me.
To the question that always comes up - well, what if you "make" me interact with a homosexual? First, you don't "make" me interact with anyone; all are welcome here. I don't care who you are, you are welcome here. But second, that rests on another fundamental idea in my "conservative theology" - I believe that everyone is made in the image of God and that means that every one - every single person on this planet - has something to teach me about God. Saint or sinner, black or white, gay or straight, left or right, poor or rich, religious or not, winning or losing, fighting or fleeing, happy or sad, sure or uncertain - if I am willing to listen, I will learn something about God. Every time.
That's what I think Jesus was about. We learn so much from the persons in the Bible who would have been too easy to write off for whatever reason. The Pharisees wanted to condemn them, the communities wanted to cast them out, the people tried to shun them, but Jesus engages with them and we learn something. We have so very much to learn.
So that's what I'm holding to. That's what a "conservative theology" means to me. It means I have the example - the full, dynamic example - and I don't need the politics or the interpretations or the pressures or anything else. No need to complicate things, no need to make it harder than it already is.
Does that make me a bigot? Not at all. Am I still going to get called one? Absolutely. Because the world can't fathom this kind of love. They say it's impossible. They say it's naive. They say it's an illusion. I am, after all, human.
But I'm trying to do better.
Because Jesus did better. And He shows us how.