In my first post in this series, I shared the background of the controversy surrounding World Vision as they first changed their policy to recognize gay marriage and then just a few days later reversed their decision. In part two from last week, I shared some thoughts on how WV’s ecumenical philosophy has led them to a this place of moral confusion. In today’s post, I wanted to share some thoughts on a possible way forward as Christians look to live in peace with other progressive-Christians who are increasingly belligerent toward our historic Faith.
Losing Out to Anger
I am under no delusions.. the animus of the World, and of progressive-Christians who feel the need to court their favor, toward those who hold a biblical view of marriage will get worse before it gets better.
Bitter young writers, such as Rachel Held Evans, gladly express their disgust for anyone who does not share their beliefs. In her CNN opinion piece, Evans mischaracterizes those who withdrew support from World Vision as follows,
But most of all, the situation put into stark, unsettling relief just how misaligned evangelical priorities have become.
When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gays and lesbians helping to provide that aid, something is wrong.
There is a disproportionate focus on homosexuality that consistently dehumanizes, stigmatizes and marginalizes gay and lesbian people and, at least in this case, prioritizes the culture war against them over and against the important work of caring for the poor.
But of course, this is not a genuine picture of what people were doing. It is caricature created by Evans. Chelsen Vicari responds,
Evans failed to disclose that the Assemblies of God general superintendent, George O. Wood encouraged members to “begin gradually shifting their support…to Assemblies of God World Missions, and other Pentecostal and evangelical charities that maintain biblical standards of sexual morality.” The goal was toreroute funding, not take our donation dollars and go shopping at the GAP.
Christians were not letting children die to spite WV, they were choosing to redirect their funds to other groups who would serve the same cause, but with a value for biblical ethics. Christians were not putting issues of sexuality above starving kids. To the contrary, they were looking to alternative aid groups like LIFE Outreach headed by James Robison and Samaritan’s Purse headed by Franklin Graham who value both sexual purity and compassion together.
Sadly though, the conversation only gets worse from here as Evans is not alone in expressing anger towards other Christians.
Populist writers such as David Michael McFarlane, a theology student, wrote an article titled, “It’s Time to Stop Calling Fundamentalists ‘Christians‘”. In it, he argues that anyone who does not support society’s redefinition of marriage should be treated as a false Christian.
To call a response of this magnitude embarrassing is no longer sufficient. In the last two years Fundamentalists have banded behind a fast food chain, racist reality TV star and discriminatory legislation in their attempt to police LGBTQ persons. It’s offensive and spiteful and incompatible with the Bible, which repeats time and time again to judge not — especially not persons outside of Christian communities. On Monday they stopped feeding orphans and widows and the needy among them, a command found in every Gospel and Epistle of the New Testament and even Leviticus. The global poor will suffer not because World Vision endorsed gay marriage or diverted money to fund Pride parades, but because the organization tried to become a smidge more inclusive.
Once again, a corrupt portrait of those who hold to biblical marriage is painted as “anti-gay” and, from there, all reason is tossed out the window.
Learning From Our Past
So where do we go from here? Can Christians find a way forward that involves genuine dialogue instead of employing straw-man arguments and divisive rhetoric? Needless to say, I wont be solving all the problems of the world today, but I do think we can learn something positive from our past. W. Stanford Reid in his article from 1948, shares how John Calvin might show us a possible way forward.
Step #1, we need to get a right picture of just who the Church really is.
According to Reid, the reformer John Calvin gives us a good starting point.
Calvin began with the idea that the church is not an hierarchical body possessed of priests, bishops and a pope; but rather it is a mystical body, God’s elect people. Outside of this body no salvation is possible. It “is the society of all the saints, a society,. .. spread over the whole world, and existing in all ages” (Reid, pg. 32).
The Church exists, not to end poverty, but to bring the Good News of salvation. In the course of that mission, we do care for the poor, but we must be careful not to turn the means into an end unto itself.
Step #2, we need to have integrity in what we write about others.
Calvin’s position is perhaps revealed most clearly in his actual dealings with the other Protestant churches of his day, and, indeed, even with the Church of Rome. On the one hand, he was always opposed to minimizing differences, particularly differences of doctrine. He was never guilty of drawing up agreements whose words could be given two different meanings at the same time. He believed that true unity came only by true agreement covering the greatest possible area. He rejected the idea that “provided what is fundamental remains safe, the loss of other things is tolerable.. . when the Son of God has given us the doctrines of his gospel to be enjoyed entire, to rend it by compact, in order to preserve some part for ourselves, is most sacrilegious”. On the other hand, Calvin was always prepared to do his utmost to bring about unity, and even when he was not successful, as long as there was an agreement on essentials he was prepared to recognize those differing from him as Christians. Contrary to much popular thinking today, Calvin was not intolerant of those from whom he differed, as long as he felt that they did not disagree from pure wantonness or hatred of the truth. He was no Genevan pope, but rather sought for spiritual unity, instead of attempting to enforce a mere outward ecclesiastical uniformity. Throughout the whole time of his work at Geneva he demonstrated this attitude by his dealings with the other Reformers. Indeed he never seems to have been willing to give up the hope of winning back to the truth even the Church of Rome, although many of his statements give the impression that he had no great expectation of such an event (Reid, pg. 38).
Rather than promote genuine dialogue, some are willing to use ill-defined terms like “bigot” and “ant-gay” to attack those with different beliefs. Name calling will not help us live together in a diverse culture, but will only engender more anger and hatred toward those who believe differently.
Listening to One Another
Some time ago, I wrote a post in which I shared my 7 Conditions for Missional Conversations to Engage the Post-Modern Mind. You can read the full post here, but today let me simply mention these 7 conditions.
Condition #1: Deal with the past, but don’t hold individuals responsible for it.
Condition #2. Express agendas with honesty
Condition #3. Demonstrate love
Condition #4. Treat people as unique individuals instead of preconceived categories
Condition #5. Contend in humility
Condition #6. Questions are the heart of dialogue
Condition #7. The goal is not a new “civil religion”
Looking Toward the Future
I believe the way forward must come from churches getting involved in their communities to provide venues for genuine dialogue. It means local leaders must come together, put aside manipulative language, and engage in honest dialogue. One potential starting place is offered by Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), who is hosting a conference this October titled, “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” Baptist Press reports the purpose of this conference as follows:
In this cultural setting, the ERLC says it hopes to address at its October conference such issues as ministering to homosexuals; equipping Christians with same-sex attractions to be sexually faithful; developing a healthy marriage culture in churches; providing pastoral counseling to same-sex couples who seek to join churches; and talking to children about sex.
In addition to Moore, others speakers will include Rosaria Butterfield, author of “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,” which describes her journey from a lesbian lifestyle to Christ; Sherif Girgis, co-author of “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense”; J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.
I pray we all can move forward under the courage of our convictions, with faithfulness to the Gospel and compassion for all those who need to hope of Christ.
- Hoyt, Hermon A., The Ecumenical Movement in Present Day Professing Christendom: Revelation 17:5, Grace Journal 6, no. 3 (1965): 4-11.
- Reid, W. Stanford, “The Ecumenicalism of John Calvin”, Westminster Theological Journal 11, no. 1 (1948): pg. 29-43. The quote from Calvin is from “A Reply to the Letter of Cardinal Sadoleto to the Senate and People of Geneva,” Tracts Relating to the Reformation (Edinburgh, 1860), I, 33.