Are Christians retreating into shells of secluded irrelevance?
Jonathan Rauch describes himself as a homosexual atheist. He is the author of six books, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., and winner of the National Magazine Award, the magazine industry's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. He recently wrote a very thought-provoking column warning Christians that our refusal to engage in activities we consider immoral is turning us into "social secessionists" and making us irrelevant to the culture.
In his essay, Rauch agrees that "religious liberty is the country's founding freedom, the idea that made America possible." He also believes that "the faithful have every right to seek reasonable accommodations for religious conscience." However, he warns that our stands on issues such as same-sex marriage comes across to secular Americans, especially the young, as discrimination. He believes that we must change our approach lest we become even more marginalized in the future.
So Rauch wants Christian photographers to take pictures at same-sex weddings, "but with a moral caveat and a prayer." He affirms "a missionary tradition of engagement and education, of resolutely and even cheerfully going out into an often uncomprehending world, rather than staying home with the shutters closed." He thus encourages evangelicals to participate in unbiblical activities, but with an evangelistic spirit.
Reading his thoughtful essay, I was left with a conundrum. Rauch is right: irrelevance is our enemy. When asked why they don't attend church, the most common answer secular people give is the perceived irrelevance of church to culture. At the same time, his prescription would seem to lead Christians to endorse what the Bible opposes.
So I asked myself, What would Jesus do? He went to the home of Zacchaeus, a tax-collector whose graft and corruption made him a notorious sinner. He spoke with a Samaritan woman whose sexual immorality made her a moral leper in her culture. No one would describe his earthly ministry as irrelevant.
But he didn't help Zacchaeus collect taxes. He didn't meet with the Samaritan woman in her bedroom, but at a public well. He connected with the culture, but never endorsed what the Bible refuses.
So here's a third option: build relationships in ways that do not encourage unbiblical activities. For instance, as an evangelical pastor, I wouldn't officiate a same-sex wedding, since most would interpret my actions as endorsement. However, I would be honored to go to the couple's home for dinner. If I were a doctor, I would not perform an abortion except to save the mother's life. But I would remain friends with the mother, whatever she chose to do.
When Jesus went to Zacchaeus's home, "they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner'" (Luke 9:7). But his gracious initiative led Zacchaeus to repent publicly and repay his victims (v. 8). As a result, Jesus could say joyfully that "salvation has come to this house" (v. 9).
Who is your Zacchaeus today?
Publication date: August 5, 2014
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