Over a century ago, a young leader of the Church in India, the Rev. V. S. Azaria...
Most people, Christian or not, would agree with Jesus’ summation of God’s will: “Love the Lord with all you got, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Many people, whether Christian or not, tend to not focus as much on the first command; but most everyone expresses an opinion about how to love others and whether or not that is being practiced well by others.
The recent social paroxysm over Phil Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) and his GQ interview is a case in point. This family patriarch is a self-proclaimed Christian ‘Bible-thumper’. Early in the interview, he declares,
“You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”
He argues that our society has gradually lost its way, jettisoning its Christian foundations and consequently blurring the lines between right and wrong, so that “…sin becomes fine.” This leads the interviewer to ask Phil for his definition of sin. In response, the Duck Commander focuses on the devolution of sexual ethics in America, speaking of homosexuality, bestiality, polyamory and the like. He then proceeds to paraphrase Paul’s message from 1 Cor. 6:9-10 with these words:
“Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Paul would approve of Mr. Robertson’s message. The orthodox church over the last two thousand years would agree as well. Many informed Christians today would agree also. Yet these thoughts have generated a firestorm of controversy.
GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) quickly responded that the article contained “…some of the vilest and most extreme statements uttered against LGBT people in a mainstream publication,” and that one of his statements describing homosexual sex was “…littered with outdated stereotypes and blatant misinformation.” To punish Mr. Robertson for airing his views, GLAAD warns that A&E network and Duck Dynasty sponsors “…now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.” Or else.
The amazing thing is that a GLAAD spokesman excoriates Mr. Robertson by appealing to the Christian faith: “Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.” And here lies the friction point between Church and culture with regard to Jesus’ teachings on love. For the Church, love means seeking the best for one’s neighbor. The ultimate expression of this is the call for repentance of sin and the embrace of the gospel, so that the neighbor will receive the greatest of all gifts, eternal life. Yet this call must be offered with the attitude of humility, as one broken sinner to another.
Even so, this approach does not strike our majority culture as loving, but rather as judgmental. The cry used to be for tolerance, but tolerance means making room for attitudes and behaviors that one judges to be wrong, in order to achieve an ulterior goal (often the transformation of the tolerated behavior). But today it is not fashionable to tell others they are wrong, with the exception of those who tell others they are wrong. We cannot tolerate the intolerant.
Even more, what many seek now is not simply tolerance for their views or behaviors, but approval. The wider culture, not wanting to offend anyone, urges us to embrace the deeply-held beliefs and consequent behaviors of others, no matter what they may be (within loosely-defined, changing norms). If we fail to do this, or protest that such actions and convictions are harmful or wrong, we are labeled “unloving,” “hateful,” “extreme,” even “bigoted” or “discriminatory.” Hence the present firestorm between those who support Phil Robertson’s position as one intending love, warning sinners of damnation, and those who oppose his message as hateful, bigoted and reactionary.
How do we bridge this chasm in order to reach our world redemptively? If ECO is going to succeed in our mission of lifting up the gospel before the eyes of our culture, we must answer this question.
Though I don’t know what all this entails, one thing I am sure of: it begins with authentic relationships – ours with Jesus (where we develop a “Jesus-shaped identity,” as our core values demand), and then with friends and acquaintances outside the Church, who can see the Jesus of the Gospels incarnated in us. As my old Young Life friends use to say:
We must win the right to be heard if we want to see hearts won to Christ.