Relevance will not remove our reproach

Ruth Graham’s write-up on the recent Q conference in Boston is a fascinating take by a journalist looking in on what evangelicals are doing. In the end, she says Q’s efforts to be relevant will be undermined by its commitment to traditional Christian views on sexuality, which were made very clear at the conference (which I am very grateful for, by the way). She writes,

Today a majority of Americans support gay marriage, including 43 percent of white evangelical Protestant millennials. Those numbers seem bound to tick upward in the years to come, particularly among the peers of Q’s on-trend attendees. And as the Supreme Court hears arguments this week on whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, there are signs that gay marriage will soon be a settled matter legally, too.

The problem for Lyons and his acolytes is that the culture at large increasingly does not think that affirming gay people or calling them to lifelong celibacy are “equally valid options,” either. The gay marriage debate may not be a debate much longer. For evangelicals who value their image as culturally relevant conversation leaders, the clock onstage is ticking down.

These remarks are both clever and ominous. The clock is indeed ticking down, but it’s not just on those attending the Q conference. It’s on all Christians who remain true to Christ in the face of a sexual revolution that has shown it will not tolerate our dissent. No amount of culture-savvy relevance will remove the reproach of following Christ on this issue. That is where we are, and we will be negotiating the realities of our minority status for the foreseeable future.

But that is no reason for despair. Our new situation will be difficult, but it will also disambiguate us from the world. It will offer us new opportunities for witness, and God will be with us. He has a way of plundering the enemy when His people seem to be at their weakest (e.g., Acts 16:30; 18:8). He will surprise us in ways we cannot anticipate now. So we have every reason to be hopeful even as we are sober about what lies ahead.


  • Don Johnson

    It is almost trivial to find a way to think that the “traditional” view on homosexuality is correct. Just pick up an ESV, for example, and it says that “men who practice homosexuality” are on some sin lists. The real question is whether those that do not have such a ready answer can be declared to be unfaithful in their understanding and therefore automatically false teachers or whether this is one of the debatable topics that divide believers. I think a diligent believer should always read the argument from another side in their own words, do not assume that an opponent will be able to present the other side, after all, they do not believe it.

    • James Bradshaw

      Live like Lot, eh? He offered his virgin daughters to a mob before getting drunk and impregnating both of them.

      Might want to actually read the story and rethink that one, eh?

    • Bob Shaffer

      bobbistowellbrown: I looked online for info about the PCA church’s “new ungodly beliefs” and I did not find anything. Do you possibly mean PC-USA?

      If yes, I know it is an honest oversight on your part, but boy, we really need to be careful of wrongly accusing faithful brethren.

        • Ryan Davidson

          There seems to be something of a sorting-out process occurring. Some blue-collar RCA congregations are shifting into the PCA. Meanwhile, certain urban PCA churches are moving into the RCA.

          I think most people suspect that we won’t soon come to any consensus on issues like women in leadership and limited accommodations for committed same-sex relationships. So, churches just realigning with other likeminded groups. In my view, these are disputable issues. Even so, most individual churches lean strongly one way or the other. So, realignment probably makes sense.

  • Chris Ryan

    We’ve got to shed this persecution complex, this view of ourselves as victims. We’re soldiers for Christ and we will find our salvation in proclaiming the Gospel and separating ourselves from wordly ways. There is nothing ominous about gay marriage because there is nothing new under the sun. Sin has always been with us and always will be with us. The church will navigate gay marriage as well it navigated co-habitation a generation ago.

    • James Stanton

      “We’ve got to shed this persecution complex, this view of ourselves as victims.”

      I’m inclined to agree with this. I read some of the comments around here and think we’re remarkably privileged to be Christians in the USA.

      What’s ominous about gay marriage is that socially conservative Christians do not know how to coexist nor want to coexist in a society where their fundamental beliefs do not have the backing of state power. Certain forms of resistance will create backlash that will likely lead to some of the very things that social conservatives have been fear-mongering about.

      We’re now seeing politicians and political writers call for resisting the Supreme Court’s decision if it legalizes same-sex marriage. How this manifests and what the consequences will be remains to be seen.

      • Bob Shaffer

        James: You are correct that “socially conservative Christians do not know how to coexist nor want to coexist in a society where their fundamental beliefs do not have the backing of state power.” We came to that place because to this point in America our beliefs have been the dominate influence and indeed a primary reason for the founding of our nation was religious freedom. It is both sad and frightening to see that falling away before our very eyes… but probably it is for our good. The Church of Jesus Christ has historically always suffered some measure of persecution and thrived best in that environment. We in the American Church have become soft and have assumed the past is our future but that may not be God’s plan and we would do well to remember that it He who raises up rulers and courts and it is He who takes them down.

  • dr. james willingham

    The conspiracy (I am simply calling it what it is) is a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. Daniel calls this stage of the game, “potter’s clay and.iron,,…iron mixed with miry clay,….partly strong, and partly broken.”(Dan.2:41,42). The smiting of the stone that is becoming a mountain will break in pieces and consume all the kingdoms, and the mountain will fill the whole earth. Note how China has seen more converts to Christ during its 60 plus years of persecution as compared to the mission effort that preceded the Communist take over. Even in the concentration camps of the old Soviet Union, converts were made. Solzhenitsyn is a case in point. His One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich provides us with a central character, a Baptist peasant no less, who thinks God sent him to the prison camp to make converts. With that attitude the conspirators who have brought us a charade of wars for two centuries or more are going to get terribly depressed. C.S. Lewis, if memory serves correctly, portrays one of them as committing suicide in the third volume of his sci/fi trilogy, That Hideous Strength. Guess who wins in the end…even in this world and that for a thousand generations with converts from one end of the heaven to the other?

  • Andrew Alladin

    Ruth Graham: “For evangelicals who value their image as culturally relevant conversation leaders, the clock onstage is ticking down.”

    Many of the Cultural Engagement types saw engaging in Social Justice, Environmentalism, Racial Reconciliation, Economic Justice, Immigration Reform as the means by which the excesses of the Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Christian Coalition, era could be exorcised. The idea was/is to show their cultural betters that Christians aren’t really just obsessed with sex but are also capable of talking about racial harmony and global warming. Let them see that we’re not prudes (we also, like you, watch Game of Thrones and love Jon Stewart) and perhaps they’ll see that “human flourishing” isn’t incompatible with sexual morality.

    The brief interregnum between Bush and Obama saw much of this happy talk. But now that the revolution has been won their secular friends have disposed of them. But they were never really needed. They were merely tolerated (Evangelicals For Obama, Catholics For Obama). Does anyone in power (AG Loretta Lynch, Democrat Party) care about what a handful of Evangelical/Reformed Christians have to say about racial healing? Liberal Amnesty advocates love touting Evangelical support but are quite hostile when religious liberty clashes with gay rights (Walmart and Apple).

    Thinking that you can sweeten ideas about Jesus, Heaven, Hell, Judgment, Forgiveness, Repentance, and Death with bland happy talk about Culture, Social Justice and “human flourishing” was always misguided.

    • Chris Ryan

      We engage on issues of social justice, racial reconciliation, immigration reform, etc because its the Christian thing to do, not because it will reap us political rewards. In fact we should pray for those who spitefully use us. We don’t do unto others as they do unto us, we do unto others as we would like them to do unto us.

  • Sandra Stewart

    On some levels I find this both very sad and some what amusing. I did a very complete study concerning homosexuality going back to the Hebrew and Greek and came to the conclusion that as far as the bible is concerned due to culture, context, and language it is in doubt as to whether it is inherently sinful, my feeling is no. But even if it is, so what. We are ALL sinners and there is no gradation of sin. As a review.
    There are seven words in Greek which are translated into one English word, “sin”.
    This is one place where translation breaks down and we lose a great deal of clarity and nuance.
    Hamartia which means missing the mark (as in bow and arrow), literally trying to do the right thing but failing through moral weakness.
    Hasebeia means ungodliness which is “positive and active irreligion in direct opposition to god”. In other words actively doing something you know is wrong.
    Parakoi means to fail to hear either through carelessness or in attention. Failing to hear when god speaks or ignoring what he has to say.
    Anomia means lawlessness, a contempt of Gods law.
    Parabasis is transgression or passing some defined limit. Or the active breaking of a commandment. It means more than hamartia in that it implies intention.
    Hittima means a failure of duty or a fault in doing that which one ought to do. A sin of omission.
    Parptouma; ignorance of what one ought to have known a sin you don’t know you have committed.
    If any one is here who does not hit a number of these ever single day or hour congratulation maybe You do not need Christ, I certainly do.
    That study is here

  • Christiane Smith

    I am troubled by the vague terms we have come to use . . . ‘the culture’ is one of them, as in the United States, there are many diverse ‘cultures’ that reflect our diverse peoples, so it is hard to imagine what is meant when the generic term ‘the culture’ is used.

    Another thought is this: are we as a Christian people concerned if we aren’t taken seriously by them what we have termed ‘the culture’? It seems to me that, by taking a moral stand on an issue, when others ‘react’ to that stand, then the others ARE taking that group of Christians very seriously, although perhaps in a negative light rather than as a ‘prophetic voice’ . . . a ‘reaction’ is not the same as a ‘dismissal’ of importance at all; it is an acknowledgement of a group’s stand, just not an ‘acceptance’ of it. The difference is important.

    But here’s a problem: Our Lord did not come to engage the culture. He assumed it. He entered into our world by taking on our humanity without giving up His divinity. And then He set out to help and heal that which He had assumed. By ‘labeling’ ‘the others’, are we following Him as we need to be doing if we want to call ourselves ‘Christ-followers’? Have we determined who the ‘lepers’ of our day are and separated ourselves from them; or are we in their midst caring for them ?

    That term ‘relevance’ seems elusive, unless we also as a Christian people are willing to close the gap between ‘us’ and HIM, and then we take OUR identity no longer from ourselves but from Him alone . . . and Our Lord Himself leads us into the midst of those who need Him, and our service to them is as though it came from Him, not from anyone resembling a ‘Pharisee’.

  • buddyglass

    “It’s on all Christians who remain true to Christ in the face of a sexual revolution that has shown it will not tolerate our dissent.”

    Society will “tolerate” Christian dissent on the issue of same-sex marriage in the same way it “tolerates” racial bigotry. You’re not going to be thrown in prison for having views that are (allegedly) bigoted. Or even for talking about them publicly. Or for preaching them. But society may very well restrain your ability to act on those views in the public sphere.

    Anti-discrimination law is one big area, as we’ve already started to see, but that is a more or less a narrow problem affecting Christians in businesses that closely intersect with the act of marriage. I’m not especially concerned about the Christian electrician who would like to discriminate against gay customers but is prevented from doing so by anti-discrimination law. Too bad for him. I’m much more sympathetic to the bakers/florists/photographers who don’t discriminate against gays per se but would like the ability to refrain from same-sex marriage ceremonies.

    Tax-exempt status and federal funding are other fronts. Just as churches that preach racial hatred still have their tax-exempt status today, churches that preach that same-sex marriage is illegitimate and homosexual acts are sinful will continue to keep their tax-exempt status. The same may not be true of religiously affiliated organizations that are less obviously “churches”, and especially organizations that receive federal funding (e.g. schools, hospitals, etc.) We’ll have to see how that plays out.

    All that to say…it seems a little hyperbolic to characterize the culture as not “tolerating our dissent”. Certainly it doesn’t affirm that dissent or treat it as morally neutral, but when I think about a culture that “doesn’t tolerate dissent” I think of churches being burned down, Christians martyred or imprisoned, etc.

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