The past few days I’ve been talking to legal scholars and activists involved in the same-sex marriage fight, from the traditionalist side, asking them where the traditionalist cause stands these days, given the fast-changing legal and political landscape. I’ve learned some fascinating things, and will be writing about them for the next issue of TAC. One veteran of this front on the culture war told me that Christians who hold to traditional Biblical teaching on marriage are going to have to understand that we will very quickly have more in common with the Church in the first centuries than we ever could have imagined, in that we will in many cases be outlaws and outcasts in a hostile pagan culture, as in ancient Rome.
My source wasn’t giving a scare quote, but rather was simply saying that marriage trads need to wake up and see what’s going on, and adjust their expectations to a new world rapidly coming into being.
I thought about that just now when I read this Baptist Press story about what Southern Baptist military chaplains are facing. Excerpts:
The decisions and changes mean chaplains might be asked to perform marriages for same-sex couples as well as counseling, marriage retreats and funerals. There are also concerns about whether military chaplains will be able to quote certain Scripture passages without facing disciplinary action for offending homosexuals.
“Those of you serving in the military are at the front wave of what we are eventually going to be facing all over this country,” Moore told the chaplains. “You are going to be dealing with some things that every community in the United States will be dealing with in a few short years.”
More from Dr. Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission:
Moore compared what today’s chaplains are facing to the challenges the apostle Paul faced during the time of the first-century church. Paul sought to exercise his rights as a Roman citizen not for the sake of his own well-being but for the precedents being set. He recounted Paul’s stay in a Roman prison as recorded in Acts chapter 16.
“Paul is not seeking his rights, but he knows his response to this has implications for everybody else. Remember to recognize you are really in the same place,” Moore told the chaplains. “You are making decisions that will have an influence for the next 300 years to come. We need to know what is going on so that you are not standing alone. We are going to work with NAMB legislatively and culturally and we will be educating Southern Baptists so that the people in our churches will know.”
Nobody is talking about persecution of the sort the early Christians endured, so let’s take that off the table now. What we’re seeing is the next phase of life in post-Christian America, in which people who really believe in Christianity have to learn to live in a pluralistic culture in which historical Christian norms not only cannot be taken for granted, but which may be radically opposed to the majority culture. Christians are going to have to learn what it means to suffer for the faith — though not, I believe (and certainly hope) to the degree that the early Church did — while keeping their hope and their openness to a world that increasingly sees them as aliens, even hostile aliens. They will also learn what it means to raise children who can successfully resist assimilation into the larger culture.
To that end, a reader sends me these reflections on youth ministry by Father Matt Marino, an Episcopal priest who is fed up with churches that try to be “relevant” to young people. He believes this approach has a lot to do with why young people are fleeing the churches, and compares the institutional church’s response to that of a young hospital patient he once counseled who was dying, but who refused to accept the reality of this. Fr. Marino believes the early Church can be a model for us. Excerpt:
The opposite of giving people what they want is to give them what they need. The beauty is that Christianity already knows how to do this.
Once upon a time our faith thrived in a non-Christian empire. It took less than 300 years for 11 scared dudes to take over the most powerful empire the world had ever seen. How did they do it? Where we have opted for a relevant, homogenously grouped, segregated, attractional professionalized model; the early church did it with a multi-ethnic, multi-social class, seeker INsensitive church. Worship was filled with sacrament and symbol. It engaged the believing community in the Christian narrative. This worship was so God-directed and insider-shaping that in the early church non-Christians were asked to leave the building before communion! With what effect? From that fellowship of the transformed, the church went out to the highways and byways loving and serving the least, last and lost. In that body of Christ, Christians shared their faith with Romans 1:16 boldness, served the poor with abandon, fed widows and took orphans into their homes. The world noticed. We went to them in love rather than invited them to our event.
The beauty of where we are at today is that, unlike the girl in the hospital bed, our fatal pill could still be rejected. It is not too late. We can leave the culture-centered models we have been following for more Christ-centered ones. More ancient ones. More rooted ones. And the most beautiful thing is that students actually enjoy them.