Yesterday I continued my survey of what recent election exit polling told us about great divisions that are ever so apparent in America culture today. Our national election revealed some huge divides that are not likely to be resolved anytime soon. What does all of this mean for us spiritually as a nation of almost 315 million people?
Defining Ourselves By What We Are Against
Several Catholic responses to the election offered insights that I think are helpful and sound. These writers opined that we are in danger of defining the church by what we are against more than by the good news we preach.
Take same-sex marriage. For many in the church this is not a threat to the church but an issue in the civil realm. I share this view, as some of you already know. Same-sex marriage will not alter my moral bearings or change my view of marriage, based precisely on the teaching of Jesus in a text like this one in Matthew 19:1-12:
When Jesus finished teaching, he left Galilee and went to the part of Judea that is east of the Jordan River. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed their sick people. 3 Some Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. They came up to him and asked, “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 Jesus answered, “Don’t you know that in the beginning the Creator made a man and a woman? 5 That’s why a man leaves his father and mother and gets married. He becomes like one person with his wife. 6 Then they are no longer two people, but one. And no one should separate a couple that God has joined together.”
7 The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why did Moses say that a man could write out divorce papers and send his wife away?”
8 Jesus replied, “You are so heartless! That’s why Moses allowed you to divorce your wife. But from the beginning God did not intend it to be that way. 9 I say that if your wife has not committed some terrible sexual sin,[a] you must not divorce her to marry someone else. If you do, you are unfaithful.”
10 The disciples said, “If that’s how it is between a man and a woman, it’s better not to get married.”
11 Jesus told them, “Only those people who have been given the gift of staying single can accept this teaching. 12 Some people are unable to marry because of birth defects or because of what someone has done to their bodies. Others stay single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who can accept this teaching should do so.”
God’s design from the beginning was for one man to wed one woman and divorce was an accommodation to human weakness and failure. For decades now we have not preached or practiced the biblical ideal, settling for a myriad of compromises because of how we have embraced divorce. Now we want to blame homosexuals for “destroying” marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth and we ought to admit it.
The answer to our problem is not moral libertinism nor legalism but rather real fidelity to Jesus and his kingdom message. But as long as we are defined by being against same-sex couples and marriage we present the kingdom as a political position to be shared by fellow conservatives who find same-sex attraction repugnant.
The Church As a Sign of Unity
Might the church again become a sign of unity within the culture? I believe this is a very important question for the people of God, regardless of party or label. Our call is to pray for our neighbors, to care for their needs (physical and spiritual) and to share (our money, time and spiritual wealth) with them in the love of Christ. This we must do as one church, not as competing ministries and local groups. Our world is starving to see what non-partisanship can actually look like. The present political system will not bring it about but the church might. But this kind only happen when we first repent of our independent, me-first, lifestyle. Then we can begin again to envision what Christ’s mission looks like when we partner together in humility for the weakest and poorest in our society. I believe multitudes of millennials might listen to us again if we speak to their concerns about the culture and our intractable spirit of winning and controlling others.
For me Roe v. Wade was one of the worst legal decisions in American history. I would love nothing more than to see it overturned. But I am a political realist. If this ever happens it will not happen through (mostly) political means. I think most ardent pro-life people now realize this simple fact. If we continue to pour millions of dollars into political pro-life causes, and into fights against homosexuals, the end result will be great spiritual and moral loss. We cannot win these battles unless we first win hearts and minds. We have failed to do that for decades. The principle reason is not political, but moral and spiritual. We have not taught Christians biblical ethics nor the power of the gospel to truly transform lives. We have brought about many decisions for Christ through “evangelistic malpractice” but we have made few real disciples. Perhaps this election will awaken more Christians to the new reality that is 21st century America. Perhaps it will also mean, as missional strategist Ed Stetzer says, “We should begin thinking about what it looks like to be the church in a ‘post-culture war’ era.” I could not agree more.