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The Worldly Church, Part 2

By February 27, 2014 One Comment

Two weeks ago, I suggested that the church manifests significant conformity to the world when it is motivated by fear of being tainted by sin and when in response to this fear it adopts a posture of self-righteousness. A kind of hypervigilant spirituality focused on preserving one’s own godliness may ensue, causing the church to abandon its ministry of solidarity with the world.  

Since that blog post, the church, or at least some of its members in prominent public roles, demonstrated precisely this (and more) on the national stage when the Arizona state legislature passed a bill that would allow businesses, on the basis of their religious beliefs, to refuse service to gays (and others). To be fair, those who drafted this bill have claimed that they were attempting to protect the religious liberty of business owners and others. The Center for Arizona Policy, a Christian lobbying group, has been one of the strongest supporters of this bill. Their president, Cathi Herrod, has argued that the bill has been caricaturized in the media; that it wouldn’t allow, for instance, a bakery to refuse to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple but that it would prevent business owners from having to participate in same-sex weddings. A letter from ten law professors, some of whom support same-sex marriage, goes even further, arguing that the bill would not have permitted discrimination.

Yet even with this most generous interpretation of the bill, it is still, at the very least, theologically distorted. Christians who refuse services to members of the LGBT community imply that they exist separate from them. Yet all humanity has been incorporated into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the Creator and Reconciler of all. “[I]n him all things in heaven and on earth were created…all things have been created through him and for him…in him all things hold together…and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things” (Col. 1:16, 17, 20; emphasis mine). Therefore we all mutually coexist with Christ.

Second, Christians who refuse to offer certain services that would make them participants in same-sex marriages imply that there is some fundamental difference between themselves and these couples. Yet all of us share a common creaturely status. We are upheld by the providence of God. We receive life from God. We equally need grace, because we all turn away from God and one another so regularly. The difference between the church and the world (and some of these gay and lesbian couples are members of the church) is this: the community of faith acknowledges and accepts what Christ has accomplished for it and the world; and it lives eschatologically, based on the promise of the full reconciliation of all to God. This would suggest, too, that those Christians who refuse to serve LGBT folks have lost sight of the grandness of God’s reconciliation or that they have taken responsibility for it themselves.

Third, the very reason for the church’s existence is witness in and solidarity with the world. It exists with and for the world. As Karl Barth put it, “Even within the world to which it belongs, [the church] does not exist ecstatically or eccentrically with reference to itself, but wholly with reference to them, to the world around.  It saves and maintains its own life as it interposes and gives itself for all other human creatures” (CD IV/3.2, 762). The church’s self-giving is marked by compassion, care, generosity, and humility—certainly not disgust, revulsion, moralistic judgment, or fear. None of us are permitted to turn away from genuine relationship with same-sex couples. We are called to be in solidarity with them, caring for them as fellow children of God, acknowleding the suffering and injustice they have endured, and advocating for their most basic needs. When doing so, we become worldly in way that corresponds to the ministry of Christ.

One Comment

  • Bill Postma says:

    Thanks for raising this issue and the rationale you present. I agree with you and my response to Christian proponents of the Arizona bill is, How do you view the Biblical story of Jesus being criticized for eating with "sinners"?

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