While I’m on a political roll, I’ll take a post to look back at the fateful SCOTUS decision on gay “marriage,” which I didn’t get around to writing about at the time it was actually handed down. In particular, I want to critique some of the more unhelpful reactions I saw from allegedly conservative Christians, who took it upon themselves to lecture other conservative Christians about how they should or shouldn’t react to the decision.
One theme that folks like Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore and others kept harping on was the unhelpfulness of “panic” or “outrage.” Stetzer’s Christianity Today article contained subtly downplaying language like this: “As Christians, this is just another step as Christians are losing long-held cultural clout in the West. The focus must not be panic… or anger… or fear… or disdain.” (As if Christians who express alarm at the profound social ramifications of this decision are merely pouting over their loss of “cultural clout!”) Russell Moore wrote two pieces, one for the Gospel Coalition that was more constructive, and one for the Washington Post that included lines like this: “Some Christians will be tempted to anger, lashing out at the world around us with a narrative of decline. That temptation is wrong.” And a few lines later, “This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing.”
I wonder whether the work of somebody like Ryan Anderson, who immediately responded to the decision with five practical actions Christians could take, would count as “politicizing” or “lashing out” by Moore’s standards. I’m also at a loss as to where Moore gets this idea that it’s “wrong” and unbiblical to be angry, outraged or even fearful at the moral decline of a nation. There is most certainly a place for outrage in the wake of this decision, and it presents a false dichotomy to divide it necessarily from evangelistic compassion.
The truth is, I don’t think Stetzer, Moore, and their ilk have really thought through all these finger-wagging soundbites. I think they feel compelled to put them in there as part of a knee-jerk reaction against anything that might be perceived as blunt, or harsh, or rough around the edges. As proof of my hunch, I’d like to offer an incident I actually observed for myself when I recently sat in on an interview taping with Sean McDowell. (Yes, THAT McDowell. Sean is the son of Josh and has his own writing/speaking ministry, including a recent book with Breakpoint’s John Stonestreet on same-sex “marriage.”)
The main body of Sean’s interview ranged over a variety of topics, including a bit of his own testimony, his dissertation work, and some thoughts on the next generation of Christians. This was all pretty standard, but something interesting happened when he was then asked to record a few quick “spots” of about a minute apiece. For one of them, he was specifically asked to give a quick take on the fallout of the SCOTUS decision. In fairness, Sean tried to be balanced, saying he was definitely alive to religious liberty concerns from Christian business-owners and universities. However, he concluded that ultimately, “fear is selfish,” and Christians need to grow out of that fearful attitude to move forward in the culture.
Now, Sean had asked the students in the audience to tell him if they thought he should do a re-take on any of these quick spots. When he finished this one, a student raised his hand to challenge Sean’s statement that “fear is selfish.” The student argued that the kinds of fears conservatives have may be for others, not just for ourselves. Oddly, this seemed to strike Sean as a novel thought. “That’s a good point,” he mused. But then he offered this head-scratching reply: “Even if we say ‘I’m worried about my kids,’ that’s still a kind of selfishness, because it’s OUR kids that we’re worrying about, right?” “But I don’t know,” he offered, “Do you think maybe I should change it to ‘Fear CAN be selfish?'” Disappointingly, the student backed down and said he didn’t think it would make much of a difference. I was on the point of saying yes, do make that change, but the first student’s sudden reluctance deflated me, and the moment passed as the lights and cameras were packed away. I was even more disappointed when that student later told me that he thought most of the people who would see Sean’s spot really were being selfish, so they “needed to hear” Sean’s message as originally worded anyway.
There are many problems with this attitude. First of all, I simply don’t agree that it’s “selfish” for Americans to lament the loss of religious liberty, even for themselves. The Bible tells us that we are to weep for the city. The erosion of the principles this country was founded on is a cause for grief and a recognition that something valuable is slipping away. And to extend this idea of “selfishness” to a concern for one’s own children is downright baffling. Are not our children separate entities, separate persons who must forge their own way in the world apart from their parents? Are we not right to wish for them that they not be dragged through crippling litigation, or that they be able to attend Christian universities if they so choose? (The latter may ultimately become a non-option if such universities lose tax-exempt status, which is completely plausible given that opponents of same-sex “marriage” are regarded in the same light as those who opposed interracial marriage.)
But beyond these problems, it didn’t even occur to Sean that a great many of us are not in fact just concerned only with ourselves, or even with our own families. In fact, many of us have great concern for people we don’t know and will probably never meet. People like Aaron and Melissa Klein, who have been socked with legal costs and an outrageous fine by two spiteful lesbians who demanded a wedding cake. People like Barronnelle Stutzman, who suffered a similar fate for not providing wedding flowers to a gay couple, then having the nerve not to settle with a promise that she wouldn’t “discriminate” this way in the future. On and on the list goes, and it will become longer still post-Obergefell.
Furthermore, some of us are disturbed at the thought that children who are complete strangers to us will now grow up in a culture that takes same-sex “marriage” for granted, aggressively propagandizing them from the youngest age to accept this as normal. Some of us are even more disturbed at the thought of children who will now be adopted by such couples as part of this whole depraved social experiment. And Sean didn’t even scratch the surface of the whole “transgender” issue, which has resulted in nothing less than child abuse as parents help their under-age kids “transition” from one gender to another. Is it “selfish” to feel anger, outrage, and fear for these children and their souls? I think not.
The problem, as I said, is that like Moore and Stetzer, Sean seems to regard such strong reactions as too close to Westboro for comfort. To give another example, Sean has told a story about being invited by CNN to comment on the Bruce Jenner flap, only to be dis-invited when they decided he would be “too compassionate.” They concluded this because Sean refused to state definitely that transgender behavior was wrong and sinful. Instead, they invited somebody from a Catholic website called Church Militant to speak on the topic. Sean laughingly reports this without even giving the specifics of what the Church Militant guy actually said and whether it was really all that wild-eyed or mouth-foaming. My readers are welcome to visit the site for themselves and see whether it deserves to be lumped in with the “God hates f-gs” crowd.” From the sound of it, it almost seemed like Sean was having a knee-jerk reaction to the name without bothering to pay much attention to the substance of their arguments. Yes, his story does provide an interesting window into media bias, but I was actually more disappointed by his response to it. The problem isn’t as blatant as outright assimilation to the culture’s sexual ethic, but there is still a a subtle shying away, a desire to seem kinder and gentler than those “other” Christians.
In a time of spiritual warfare, we can’t afford such niceties. I don’t deny that we should exercise discernment and be able to determine when a group of proclaimed Christians has truly gone over the edge into rabid culthood. But dismissing potential allies merely because they raise their voices above a whisper, or merely because they sound a bit “militant,” is sheer pickiness.
Christian leaders, writers, opinion-makers, I appeal to you: Quit obsessing over “tone.” Quit lecturing conservatives about the precise emotions we aren’t allowed to feel. Quit trying to make a biblical mandate out of your personal rhetorical tastes. Let every man grieve in his own way. Now is not the time or the place for picayune quibbles. We are, after all, all in this together now.