We had our monthly meeting this past Saturday (yes, it is possible for the human being to experience the accumulated pleasure of an NCAC meeting and a family gathering overflowing with turkey, ham, and every other gastronomic goodness you can imagine all in the same weekend without dying), and the discussion quickly turned to the redefinition of marriage. It wasn’t a discussion about homosexuality, per se; it was more focussed on the traditional definition of marriage and what ramifications, if any, it should have for its relatively recent redefinition in Canada. In short, the discussion was more political than moral or religious (acknowledging that political issues are almost always inherently moral, and that moral issues are inherently religious).
The political nature of the issue seemed to rub a few attendees the wrong way. The question was raised whether the political aspects of social issues such as homosexuality and abortion even pertain to apologetics at all. This seems to me an interesting question, a question I’ve been thinking about since that evening, so I’d like to spill a little ink in getting my thoughts out in this post. Be cautioned that they are somewhat preliminary.
The first thing that must be said is that no one denied that the redefinition of marriage in a same-sex permitting way is antithetical to the biblical definition of the institution. There are those who claim to be Christians who deny this, but there were none at the meeting, and as such it’s a topic for another post.
All present were in agreement that the biblical definition of marriage restricts it to being between one man and one woman, but there was a division over whether or not the Christian should actively attempt to promote the biblical definition in the political sphere. Almost immediately someone raised the objection that it’s a debate we’ve already lost in Canada, and thus we should focus our energies on more fruitful endeavours. This, of course, provoked the opposition into arguing (for the remainder of the formal meeting) that we have not lost the battle, and that the tide can still be turned. Much more was said on each side, but I’ll not delve into it here because it seems to me a red herring.
The question of whether or not we have lost the battle is irrelevant for at least two reasons:
- It may be that God wants us to fight a losing battle. In fact, even a cursory reading through the Scriptures reveals that the majority of God’s messengers have toiled in the face of insurmountable adversity—the corrupt will of fallen men. But it was certainly God’s will for them to do so.
- It’s possible that the battle could be won, yet God doesn’t want us to fight it anyway. Jesus is our prime example. He could have easily utilized God’s angelic forces or His inherent power to overthrow the earth and reign supreme forever, but it was not God’s will that He did so. He had different (far better) plans in mind, and He may have better plans in mind for us as well. The bare fact that it is possible to win tells us little about the appropriateness of the battle.
So the real issue for the Christian should not be whether or not we can win the debate, but whether or not we should even try. Is it God’s will for us to engage in this debate on a political level?
The key phrase here is on a political level. The definition of marriage is undoubtedly an apologetics issue inasmuch as it proves a stumbling block for individuals who may otherwise come to the faith. These individuals should be and are engaged, so answers to their concerns should be developed and learned by apologists. But should we take this fight to the political arena? Is it the Christian mandate to create a state in which the God of the Bible is honoured in word and deed, or is it our mandate to simply preach the Gospel (which includes the moral commands from Christ and His Apostles) and call those who don’t harden their hearts against it to come out of this corrupt world? I lean more towards the latter, and thus refrain from Christian activism on issues such as homosexuality and abortion, but I can see at least one decent point on each side of the debate.
In making the case that we should engage politically, one could argue that the political and legislative spheres have a deep impact on the moral constitution of a country’s citizens, and that eliminating (or at least fighting against) any laws and political ideas which are contrary to God’s word is the wise thing to do in attempting to remove this stumbling block from before them.
This argument is certainly not without merit. It may be that the best way to change hearts and minds is to attack the issue as close to the source as possible, which in this case might be the political ideologies (and ideologues) which promote the redefinition of marriage.
On the other hand, it may be that the Spirit will do His work on those who are open regardless of the cultural milieu in which they find themselves. This response seems to me to have some force in that we don’t see the early church engaging in political activity. They refuse to obey the demands of a corrupt society where obeying would put them at odds with the commandments of their Lord, but they certainly didn’t campaign for the abolishment of slavery, or any other social depravity that was current at the time (homosexual behaviour being one of them). Neither Christ nor His Apostles command us to act out in such a way, nor do they seem to engage in political issues themselves. Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and a lack of command to act doesn’t make it immoral to do so. The only point I’m making here is that it certainly isn’t clear that the only way (or even God’s preferred way) to turn hearts on these issues is to act politically, and if we look to the early church as our example, we see no such explicit activism. This is no knock-down argument; it’s not supposed to be.
In arguing against political activism on the part of the Christian, it can be argued that such actions have the potential to do damage to the Gospel. We risk being defined by the issues, instead of being defined by the message of Christ’s coming Kingdom and the inheritance promised to those adopted into His family through faith. A Christian friend, who is also an acomplished pro-life activist, once told me that the majority of the time his pro-abortion opponents peg him as a Christian, even when he hasn’t mentioned the fact. The reason is that Christians have been so staunchly opposed to abortion that the pro-life cause has come to be identified with Christianity in the eyes of many pro-abortion advocates. The same is certainly true of the marriage debate. Granted, much of this is hollow rhetoric from the opposition coupled with an imbalanced presentation of the issues on the part of the media, but the fact remains the same that the perception is a popular one, and that it may be hindering the Gospel. Again, if we are to take the Apostles and the early church as our example, we see a conspicuous lack of such activity.
Notice that this isn’t an argument that speaking out against homosexual behaviour, abortion, and the redefinition of marriage will hinder the Gospel; those things are wrong and contrary to the commandments of Christ, and thus should be addressed with honesty and rigour. Rather, the argument is that engaging in such activity within the political arena is serving to redefine (which necessarily distorts) the Gospel message so that those exposed to it are missing the life-changing message that the Christian Gospel truly is.
Against such an argument it may be tempting to respond that just as the Spirit doesn’t need any particular cultural milieu to do His work, even so He is not dependent upon the milieu in which the Gospel is perfectly clear. But this seems to me a bad response. I agree that it is not necessary for the culture to agree with Christianity’s exact moral presuppositions for the Spirit to work in the hearts of unbelievers, but the very thing the Spirit is working towards is bringing the unbeliever to faith in the true Gospel. How can this be done if no accurate understanding of the Gospel is there? Certainly, God could provide personal revelation or some such thing, but this would seem to eliminate the need for the evangelist/apologist altogether.
Perhaps one could respond by arguing that the true Gospel could be preached by individual evangelists, and that the overarching view prevalent within the unbelieving society as whole is less relevant than it would at first seem. Again, this may have some merit. The problem I have with it is that a distortion of the Gospel, at any level, seems to me necessarily a bad thing. If faced with the choice between speaking for a (good) moral cause politically and potentially damaging the Gospel, and preaching the Gospel on a more personal, yet still public, level, giving it a clear presentation that is faithful and true, I lean more towards the latter.
As stated above, I don’t take this to be any sort of definitive statement on the issue of Christian activism. I refrain from it, and think it an unwise enterprise for the Christian, but my views remain underdeveloped here and I am very open to being challenged. What do you think of the above arguments? Do you know of any arguments one way or the other that I’ve failed to present and consider? Let me know in the comments. Far from being the end of the conversation, I hope this post opens it up for fruitful dialogue.