June has been dubbed “Pride Month,” a new holy festival in our cultural calendar. Just in time for the season, logos of powerful, influential corporations have changed their logos to rainbow hues. Pop idol Taylor Swift dropped a new song and video castigating opponents of sexual immorality, particularly of the LGBT+ variety. In a strange twist of history, one of the richest women in the world lampoons the heartland demographic that fueled the rise of her former country career, portraying them as toothless inbred hayseeds, toting signs reminiscent of the fringe Westboro Baptist congregation.
This is all a stunning reminder that we American Christians live in a post-Obergefell world, and all without the energetic pushback we have come to see from the pro-life movement’s effort to roll back Roe v. Wade. The rich, powerful, and popular are against traditional Christian morality on this one. And it is no surprise that American Christians that hold to a biblical ethic are feeling anxious.
The desperation has been apparent for quite some time. Both sides of the debate have carried on an acrimonious, decades-long culture war. Now, the Supreme Court has made its decision (for now), and workaday Christians now find themselves facing not only social ostracism but also real peril to their livelihoods in the form of lawsuits and corporate progressivism. The corporate culture has been there for a while now. But it seems to be ever more visible and threatening now, especially with the push to construe opposition to sexual immorality as being in the same category as racism (which generally leads to job or business loss).
So now what? Where do Christians go from here? How do we maintain faithfulness to the doctrine and practice of the faith “once delivered to the saints” in such an adversarial cultural context, especially when our means of provision seem to be threatened by indefinitely-deferred promotions, firings, suing, and social isolation? These pressures either fuel ungodly vitriol or encourage fatal compromises. I think we saw more of the former in the years leading up to Obergefell (think the Proposition 8 fight) and much more of the latter since the SCOTUS decision.
But we ought not lose our collective mind. It is possible to live and even thrive as a faithful Christian, even in antagonistic environments. And the United States is far from a totalitarian dictatorship, despite the apocalyptic tone one finds in campaign letters and fund-raising emails.
The Church has grown in and overcome much more adverse circumstances. However, it is up to us to think about how we go about that. Immobilization in fear and hopeless despair are unwarranted and even imprudent. We must exercise discipline, get a hold of ourselves, and soberly consider how we can walk with Christ wisely and faithfully in a post-Obergefell United States.
As a pastor, I want congregants to have some sort of strategy and mindset as we face such a context together. I do not think there are any cookie-cutter, catch-all answers that will satisfy every context in which the members of the Church will find themselves. On the other hand, I think there are a few wise guiding principles we ought to consider that are derived from the Scriptures and the voice of the Church. These are by no means exhaustive, but I would like to see faithful Christians thinking, discussing, and enacting them for the benefit of Christ’s Kingdom.
In a certain sense, our current “post-Obergefell moment” presents an opportunity to take stock of ourselves as American Christians. With such an important battle for sexual morality lost, now is a time to turn our focus and attention to things matters of holiness afflicting the Church. In being so focused on the homosexuality issue and the political fights that took place in legislatures and court rooms, I fear many Christians have ignored other pressing matters of holiness that are just as deleterious to the Church and to the nation at large.
This is not to say that we should retreat from prudent political activity; it is just to say that I think our house is burning, and yet many American Christians are still distracted by the typical outrage-inducing headlines that tend to be focused on outward threats (including ex-evangelicals leaving the reservation).
Oddly, one of the first things I would like to see in a group accused of intolerance is yet more intolerance amongst themselves…against evil. The Church ought not tolerate abusers. We are currently reaping the whirlwind for our past failures here. In Catholic and evangelical Protestant contexts alike, we have seen the perpetrators extended great mercy and permissive toleration, all while the victims are left crying out for righteous judgment. Congregations and denominations that emphasize and remain firm on sexual morality fail to maintain it, they sometimes even enable it, and they are made a laughingstock (and worse) in the eyes of the public.
The Lord hates abuse. The Scriptures are clear on that issue. It would be fitting for Churches to be some of the hardest institutions for predators to infiltrate, but the opposite seems to be the case. Ironically, the people in America most likely to affirm that men are desperately sinful are some of the least likely to act like that is the case in the context of their shared life.
Christians can be incredibly naïve about manipulators and naturally inclined to give second chances in ways that are foolish and inappropriate. Others are simply enablers, especially when a leader is particularly charismatic and able to fill their churches with attendees and members. In such instances, big numbers function like an addictive drug or idol: many victims must be sacrificed. Tremendous foolishness and evil result, all with the effect of harming the innocent and making mockery of God and His Word.
There is an abuse problem in America’s institutions. Has this always been the case? One shudders at the thought of the correct answer being “yes.” Regardless, now is a time for the Church to unite against and drive it out, as best she can. That entails discipline of her own members, wise and clear policies on the matter, and cooperation with the magistrate, who wields not the sword in vain.
There are plenty of other trends, activities, and institutions opposing Christian morality on other fronts as well. Although the LGBT+ agenda steals all of the attention, so many other matters relating to Christian holiness are deeply affecting the American church. For example, any American Christian whose head has not been in the sand for the past two decades understands that the Church is utterly and completely rife with the consumption of hardcore internet pornography, used as an accelerant for masturbation.
While traditional Protestants are doing better on this front than many other sectors of the country, there is obviously a tremendous epidemic of lust that has swept through our congregations. Tragically, some congregations seem to have given up on fighting this menace, even when pastors are addicted to the stuff. Thankfully, others are pushing back with vigor (here is one such example that I came across recently).
However, even more Christians, it seems, have become indiscriminate in their consumption of entertainment. The US rendition of House of Cards and Game of Thrones both come to mind as “acceptable” forms of entertainment that contain pornographic elements to them (not to mention graphic violence—something few Christians ever seem to be worried about anymore in films. The American Church is becoming a morally coarsened and calloused one, given to ever-greater permissiveness and promiscuity, and I think pornography has a lot to do with that.
Other issues of holiness are often left completely unaddressed. If one is lucky enough to find an American congregation that takes catechesis seriously, he may find that even these fine assemblies do not provide much guidance on these sticky issues, much less confront them with calls to penance and the threat of church discipline. Divorce and (now) cohabitation are given a blind eye.
Many Christians, particularly evangelicals, do not know when a civil divorce could be justified, how civil divorces ought to be seen by the Church, or whether such past decisions have any bearing on the legitimacy of remarriage. Most Christians seem to have no moral principles to guide and govern them through circumstances and acts that can have devastating affects on themselves, their children, and their wider community.
Most Christians are also flying blind with regard to other important sexual matters. The moral peril of artificial contraception as a means of birth control within matrimony is rarely if ever discussed. The world’s narrative and creed on this matter is generally accepted wholesale and without reservation. While this has been the most pressing issue regarding the severing of procreation from sex, nowadays we face even more challenges thanks to newer, more available technologies.
For instance, most laymen and many clergymen are completely unprepared to confront the immorality of IVF and surrogacy. Whereas contraception tries to have sexual union without procreation, IVF tries to have procreation without sexual union. While the desires and urges at play in the case of IVF seem more ennobling and less promiscuous than those at work in contraception, the same creational principles are violated and, more disturbingly, both sins make children out to be a consumer product.
What does all this have to do with Obergefell? Although we could connect it to a wider slide in our culture, I think it is wise to realize that many of these matters do not have direct connections to the SCOTUS decision and its fallout. And that is precisely the point. Parachurch organizations, political lobbying arms, culturally-engaged ministries, and so many other institutions that wield influence in the Protestant world have been so completely focused on the LGBT+ conflict that they lost sight of other pressing concerns.
Because homosexuality, transgenderism, and similar issues were so controversial and shocked so many average Christians, they were used as incitement and rallying cries in the culture war, all while other new threats (like IVF) and past defeats (like no-fault divorce laws) wrought their own harm within the Church and the wider United States.
We need to be tackling these issues in various forms and fashions, whether in the Sunday School forum or from the pulpit. We must do so not just because of optics and consistency that will be winsome to up-and-coming young Christians. Showing that we are not simply homophobic despisers is always a plus. Having a fulsome Christian sexual ethic that is enforced consistently across the board in our ecclesiastical contexts makes our teaching on LGBT issues credible to up-and-coming generations. But the main motivating factor for us to pursue sexual holiness corporately is because it pleases the Lord. So let us not waste our Obergefell; let us recommit ourselves to holiness.
Be Strong for Others
This is an old maxim from the days of chivalry: might for right. In this case, I have economic might in mind. I beseech those in the Church who are talented and enterprising: consider bulking up to provide shelter to the brethren. A good example of this is Chick-Fil-A.
One of the reasons traditional Christians congregate there is because it is a safe place for them, and not because of the CCM muzak being pumped out of the overhead speakers. Part of it has to do with family-friendly customer service. More it has to do with not being at risk of being publicly shamed for Christian beliefs in such a space, nor being affronted by an ideologically charged product (“Gay Whopper,” anyone?). Perhaps greatest of all, though, is the fact that traditional Christians know they can get and keep a job there. Chick-Fil-A hires traditional Christians (including young ones just starting out in the world) and is successful enough to ensure that such employees will be able to provide for themselves for some time. Plus, Sundays are always off, giving time for rest and assembled worship in church.
The benefits, of course, are conditional. For one, the corporate culture must be maintained—being a private rather than public company certainly helps on that front. Hopefully, the Cathy family and other stewards of such productive property never kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Another condition is that they have got to be the best, or at least one of the best. If the restaurants were to start serving sub-standard chicken or neglecting good customer service, they would fail. The company already has powerful cultural and political opposition. It overcomes a lot of that by having a loyal customer base that has been won and maintained over the years. If there is a lesson here for future Christian entrepreneurs, this is it: be the best. I think plenty of traditional Christians have already taken on this attitude. First generation homeschoolers and those from ambitious classical Christian schools like Patrick Henry College and New Saint Andrews (which draw heavily from the homeschooling community) should be familiar with this pressure. Being “a Christian version of…” is not going to cut it.
This is not to say that enterprising Christians should not pursue old stand-bys: the trades, contracting, real estate, farming, and more. The goal, as Pastor Chris Wiley says in his excellent little book Man of the House, is to acquire productive property. Such property is rarely fluid or mobile. It makes one “gain weight.” But that can be a good thing—ever seen a welterweight try to take on a heavy?
This is part of what it means to be strong for others. Owning productive property is more risky: businesses can fail, crops can die, tools can be lost in the fire, skills can be incapacitated by injury or illness. Liabilities and responsibilities abound. But with ownership comes liberty. This is why political concerns still matter. Lawsuits against Christian bakers, photographers, and more will have a big effect on other Christian business owners. But many decisions on this front have been encouraging, making self-employment and ownership of productive property a desirable alternative to laboring for a progressive institution.
If a person does not own productive property, he is almost assuredly working for someone who does—including those massive international corporations with the rainbow insignias. Otherwise, he is likely dependent upon the state in some form or fashion, which also leaves one vulnerable. The strategic goal should be for Christians to become less beholden and servile to the large institutions—states and corporations—that are flying the rainbow flag. The tactics to achieve that end will vary.
However, across the board, this is likely going to involve making households productive again. No longer will households be simply centers of recreation, which is where we find ourselves today thanks to the Industrial Revolution and other shifts. The homeplace will once again be the workplace, and that will be a good thing. When survival depends on a well-functioning household, I think many intramural debates in Christian circles about the New Testament Haustafeln will evaporate. It is likely the dynamics around divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, “gender roles,” feminism, child-bearing, and so forth will also change. I mention child-bearing and feminism because productive households put children in the “assets” category rather than the “liabilities.”
That drastically changes how a people perceives mothering and “success,” which are often put at odds with one another thanks to corporate careers being perceived as the ideal for contributing productively to society. Christopher Wiley has done a great service in pointing these facts out to American Christians. I would hazard that this is an approach that fits within the broader goals of the more popular “Benedict Option” conversation that American Christians are having at the moment.
Obviously, this is risk-filled, difficult work. And not every Christian will have the opportunities or means to achieve such a goal. However, those of us that have the opportunity (particularly young people starting out in life) ought to seek to establish a productive household.
From that place of strength—particularly if the productive property is some sort of company—Christians can hire their fellow believers to assure that they, too, can provide for themselves and their families. Jeremiah 29 should provide some biblical precedent and expand our imaginations. If the Exiles could succeed in empires as antagonistic as Babylon and Persia (Daniel and his friends, Mordecai, and Esther being the most notable examples), then certainly we can succeed in our altered cultural landscape.
Be Anxious for Nothing: Love One Another
At the heart of the previous section and this one is this: no one is going to starve. Plenty of vitriol in Christian reactions to the LGBT+ agenda has been fueled by disgust for homosexual and transsexual promiscuity and its effect on our families, communities, nation, and world. But there is also a desperation apparent in the rhetoric and activism that springs from a fear for survival, both materially in terms of livelihood and spiritually in terms of the Church’s continued existence in the United States. I would like to tackle the former fear first: no one is going to starve.
American Christians, in connection to the global church, must minister to one another, even as members face economic difficulties and disasters due to standing by their Christian moral convictions. They must be the sort of people that will not let their own go without food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities because of their testimony to Christ and His Gospel. If things continue on their current trajectory in the United States (and that is a big “if,” for history if full of surprises), the individualism and isolation that has become so typical of the American Church is going to come to an end due to necessity.
No longer will traditional Christians be spiritual consumers. That luxury will be granted only to those who compromise. For traditional Christians, the only way to survive will entail real ministry, with tangibly sacrificial care for one another. This is what God commands of His people, anyway. But our disobedience will no longer be sustainable. Otherwise, it will be a matter of each of us (alone) against the world, which is not only unsustainable but also unbiblical.
In all this, Christians must remember they seek peace—the peace of God over and above all. If standing by the laws and ways He has given us puts us at war with the world, then so be it. The prophets were resoundingly clear in teaching that peace with God, manifested in faithfulness to Him and His ways was one of the most important priorities for the Lord’s covenant people. He is able to smite the army of Sennacherib and to protect His children in the fiery furnace.
Such a God should spark confidence and trust which confronts the anxieties that afflict us today. I think that sort of confidence—that God takes care of His people, particularly in their love for one another—will have a beneficial effect on our rhetoric, perspectives, and outreach, even toward those that are purported to be “the enemy.” But we know our real opposition is not made up of flesh and blood. I think such pedestrian matters of personal and corporate holiness, durable productivity, and sacrificial ministration have cosmic significance, and they will have a mighty effect in the United States if the Christians there pursue them with vigor.
This article is solid in so many ways. I resonated with the “Be Holy” and the “Be Anxious for Nothing: Love One Another” sections.
I’m wrestling with the “Be Strong for Others” section, especially its emphasis on what I perceive to be a push for entrepreneurship. I pastor in an Urban context and I’m not sure how workable that advice is for most of the folks in my community. While a case can be made for helping another “up”, most of the people in my particular congregation who are “talented” and “enterprising” are seen as such due to their success in the environments you seem to want Christians to shy away from.
Just a few observations from an excellent article.
I’m not sure that this article sets forth an accurate picture of the state of affairs.
First, the article overlooks the complicity of “traditional” Christians in the story of how we arrived at our current moment. By the 1950s, such Christians abandoned the notion that sex is principally for procreation, and instead began to celebrate recreational sex as the centerpiece of married life. Within a few years, such Christians would come to grant ethical accommodations to those who had “fallen out of love,” divorced their initial spouse, and took another shot at finding sexual and romantic gratification with a new partner. But there is little that is “traditional” about such a view of marriage. As Carl Trueman has noted, this was the seminal redefinition of marriage that made SSM all but inevitable. SSM merely took an assumption that “traditional” Christians had already adopted and took it to its logical end.
Second, the article fails to show how Christian belief required “traditional” Christians to adopt the stance they did in the Culture War, namely, seeking to deny to committed same-sex couples the legal benefits of our civil marriage laws. Why would “traditional” Christian belief necessarily require me to petition the civil magistrate to withhold certain privileges and immunities from people who engage in private, consensual acts that run against my religious convictions? I suspect that we’d be in a very different place culturally if “traditional” Christians had taken a more libertarian approach to the issue of SSM. Never mind that the anti-SSM advertising campaigns launched by “traditional” Christian organizations generally relied on fairly inaccurate stereotypes of gay and lesbian people. If making your point requires you to lie, then the culture is probably right to conclude that you had no legitimate point to make.
Lastly, the article misrepresents what it is that “traditional” Christians actually oppose. As an asexual kid coming of age within evangelicalism, I was treated in much the same way as gay and lesbian kids. A PCA minister broke up my engagement (to someone of the opposite sex) when I disclosed my asexuality. I was referred to reparative therapy, and warned that I may be excommunicated if I didn’t become heterosexual. That was twenty years ago, but little has changed in the ensuing years. Just a few weeks ago, the PCA General Assembly affirmed the Nashville Statement, which operates on a flawed theology of human sexuality that valorizes the very kinds of abuse that many of us suffered as young adults.
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Jesus said, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Holy-love