The Church Is a Step Behind . . . Again

Indiana has recently followed the example of other states in enacting legislation to allow businesses to discriminate based on religious beliefs. Conservative Christians will applaud Indiana for standing up for religious freedom and will not be bothered that the discrimination will usually be against homosexuals.

And will the world around us admire those Christians for their moral courage in demanding the right to oppose homosexuality? No. Instead the message is that Christians are narrow-minded, bigoted, judgmental, self-righteous, and determined to deny the rights of gays.

It is a messy moral issue, much too complicated for the unsophisticated moral reasoning of most conservative Christians. We conservatives have made little progress in understanding morality since the days of the Pharisees who battled against Jesus 2000 years ago. They, too, thought of morality as a matter of obedience to the rules and regulations.

In a democracy, moral decisions are even more complex and sometimes overwhelming than they were two millennia ago. Now we have to remember that the government is not an alien power forced upon us (though political conservatives in our day continually speak of it in just that way). The government is made of of people who represent us because they are people whom we have elected.

If we wish to be “strict constructionists” in our understanding of the Bible, we will be bound by the fact that the Bible clearly condemns homosexual behavior. Recent efforts (such as by Michael Vine) to make the Bible say something quite the opposite are marked by a high degree of twisting Scripture to mean the reverse of what it says. (See the series of posts called “Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?” in my blog   <  >)

The current debates over homosexuality in our country would be much different, I believe, had the church not been practicing discrimination all along. We seem not to have noticed that the only people against whom Jesus spoke and fought were the ultra-righteous and conservative religious people. Against sinners he spoke gently and lovingly, while crying out against the religious folk who thought they had mastered the mind of God.

The world is a step ahead of us in many matters of justice. This is not new: I well remember from my youth that it was the conservative Christians who fought hardest against the civil rights of Black Americans. In the South, that is still the case in many areas. And it was the conservative Christians who fought hardest against the civil rights of women. And many still do.

Just so, it is the conservative Christians who now make it impossible for the world to conclude anything but that we are a bunch of self-righteous fools who hate anyone who is different than we are.

How, in a democracy, can we be persons who are true to our moral commitments without demanding that the government enforce our own particular — and sometimes peculiar — moral positions? I have no easy answers, of course, but I do have a prayer: “Lord, help us to be people of love who consistently demonstrate your grace and compassion.”


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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3 Responses to The Church Is a Step Behind . . . Again

  1. I do not understand the Biblical basis of refusing to serve gay people. Jesus associated with sinners and came not to be served but to serve. The baker might say a gay marriage is not a proper marriage, but given that God joins together is a civil marriage between two atheists more of a marriage in that baker’s view?

    Refusing to serve means that, within or outside the church, the gay person is a uniquely wicked sinner, treated in a special way just for gays, which goes against the usual “We are all sinners” line.

    • mthayes42 says:

      Great to hear from you again, Clare. Like you, I am puzzled that conservative Christians elevate sexual sins above all others. It is even worse than atheism or murder or a host of other matters.
      Two quick comments:
      1. I believe the exaggerated response to sexual sin is a matter of psychology, not Scripture. We’re afraid of the powerful temptations of sex and so fixate on those sins in fear.
      2. We all, Christian and non-Christian alike, struggle with the challenge of refraining from condemnation without feeling we are condoning sin. The baker feels badly if, by baking a wedding cake, he participates in and implicitly approves of what he considers an immoral wedding. And, on the other side of the coin, the gay advocate often does not know how to refrain from condemning a person’s disapproval of homosexual behavior without seeming to approve of that person’s view. The gay couple and the baker both deserve respect. And neither deserves condemnation. But we feel as if we have to side with one or the other. How can we grow beyond that without ending up throwing all moral standards out the window? Or, to put the matter differently, how can we differ on what the moral standards ought to be without ending up condemning one another?
      These are questions we need to work on together, methinks, because neither of us has a monopoly on condemning those with whom we disagree.
      So I say once more: Great to hear from you again, Clare.

  2. Pingback: Indiana law | Clare Flourish

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