Nobody’s talking about Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ anymore.
Which is why I thought this might finally be a good time to talk about a question that I kept thinking about during the uproar.
[To be clear, when the interview went viral and the temporary suspension from A&E ensued, there were several issues that were worth discussing. There were issues related to civil liberties, and I think Russell Moore and others did a good job addressing that. There were issues related to the complexities of how human sexuality works, and there were Christians who addressed that.]
But the question that kept nagging me as Facebook and Twitter exploded with opinion, was this:
What does it mean to take a stand for Jesus?
It became clear to me that many Christians believe that speaking out against gay marriage in particular or homosexuality in general is the equivalent of taking a stand for Jesus. The logic goes something like this, “If Christians are silent about the truth, then the lie will win. Therefore we must be bold and call sin, sin.”
Can we talk about this? Let’s consider a few things:
1. Jesus didn’t take a stand for himself.
There were many occasions when people tried to trap Jesus–usually religious leaders, mind you– that he gave a circuitous answer. He didn’t often give them the “black and white” response they were looking for. That is not to say, of course, that Jesus was what we would call “soft on sin.” Certainly not. It’s just that He didn’t pay much attention to answering their “hot button” issues in their terms.
Many Christians want other Christians to give a stock answer to the issues of our day. But Jesus seems to not engage on the grand level of “issues”; He stoops low to the personal and the individual. He talks to the woman caught in the act of adultery; but when asked about when a man could divorce his wife and not be guilty of adultery, Jesus reframes the question. He’s not a puppet of our social agendas.
And when Pilate puts Jesus on trial– Pilate, the one who represents the systerms and structures of the world– Jesus remains silent. He simply won’t go there.
I keep wondering why.
2. When Peter tried to take a stand for Jesus, Jesus told him to put his sword away.
When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter knew this was his moment. Don’t be a coward, Peter. Stand up! Speak up! Do something! So he did. He drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant! We often think of Peter’s cowardly denial, but forget that moments earlier Peter had done an incredibly risky thing; this could have gotten him arrested or even killed.
It was brave. It was remarkable.
And it was wrong. Jesus picked up the severed ear, placed it back on the man’s face, healing the wound, and told Peter to put his sword away. No need to “take a stand Peter”.
3. Jesus knows that death and darkness don’t win.
It may seem like weakness, but it is really strength. It may sound like foolishness, but it is true wisdom. It may seem like we’re letting the enemy win and have his way, but God will have the Day.
We don’t have to live or act from a place of panic. We are not the Kingdom-bringers; Jesus is. And Jesus brough the Kingdom by laying down his life. The cross redefined power and wisdom at last. Now we know what Love looks like.
How would you live and speak and love if you knew that the Light wins?
Am I saying that across the board, Christians should be silent? Nope. There are many issues– from abortion to trafficking to violence– that we can and ought to speak up and do something. And we have the privilege in America of engaging these “issues” through social and politlical action. This is a privilege not to be squandered.
What I am saying is that we need to think carefully about the why and the how.
Some things must be addressed in the public square for the good of the society— because the powerless will suffer unless we speak for them. Other things are trickier because in a pluralistic society, there may be little agreement on what the “good of the society” means. But even if you were convinced you were “speaking out” for the good of the city, it is not the same thing as “taking a stand for Christ”.
To preach Christ and Christ crucified– this is the Gospel. And the Gospel, as Leslie Newbigin argued, is “public truth”– it is for the whole world to hear and know.
From that public truth comes a set of implications– and yes, moral implications.
IF Christ is the crucified and risen Lord and Savior, then this is what we must now do: repent, put our faith in him, trust His Spirit for the power to live in a new way with a new community of Christians.
But we do not start by announcing morality to the world. We start by preaching Christ.
This is my reading of 1 Corinthians. Paul addresses “the church of God in Corinth”; Paul begins with “Christ crucified” and then goes on to the moral and ethical implications of this truth; Paul then concludes with “the risen Christ” who gives us power to become new. [For the podcast along with my sermon notes of this new series on 1 Corinthians, click HERE.]
I wonder if we would do better to stop trying to “take a stand for Christ” and to seek instead to embody Christ– His cruciform Way that appears weak and foolish to the world but is the power and the wisdom that triumphs in the end.
Since not all readers will scroll through the comments, I’m going to add some notes I’ve written in the comments in response to some thoughtful questions:
What about John the Baptist confronting Herod, Jesus confronting the Pharisees, and Peter (later) confronting the Sanhedrin?
All these are examples of confrontations with Jewish leaders— Herod was a half-Jew who called himself “king of the Jews” and John the Baptist was exposing him as a fraud; Pharisees were Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus and trusted in their own obedience; the Sanhedrin were rulers of the Jewish synagogue who claimed to know what God was but yet rejected Jesus;
What’s my point? Jewish leaders in the early NT would be analogous to church leaders in our day– they are people who are “of the faith”, who claim to know and worship God, and who ought to know better. Paul says judgment begins in the church…Paul talks about sexuality in fairly clear language to Christians, in a letter to a church he knew well…and he does so in love. In a similar way, we can and should talk about it to our church, our faith community– in sermons, small group convos, personal convos and more!– not in a “megaphone” to “the world.”
For all the above reasons, I think the situation in Corinth is worthy of reflection because it was the first (and largest until Ephesus) pagan city in which the Gospel took root. And Paul’s modus operandi is to address, pastor, teach, correct the church, not the “culture at large.” Part of the challenge of accepting this as American Christians, is we still think we’re living in Jerusalem (a city of shared religious beliefs) and not in Corinth (a “secular” city of pluralistic beliefs).
What’s the point in preaching Christ (as Savior) if we do not make clear what they need saving from?
It is true that preaching Christ means proclaiming Him as Savior and Lord…which implies something to need saving from…So what concept of sin is needed?
I think of Paul in Romans saying the Gentiles have some sort of law written on their hearts. In our day, most outside faith don’t accept Christian sexual ethics or morality. But many have some place where they draw the line: they agree that injustice and exploitation is wrong, they agree that extreme selfishness is wrong, etc… Perhaps our approach is to find that desire and show how they don’t have the power to (fill in the blank): love like they want to, care like they should, etc. We can then point to Christ as the Savior and Lord. (This, I think, is what Timothy Keller does REALLY well in his sermons.)