I wish I did not have to write on this particular subject. But with accelerating speed, Christians in our country are collapsing into the cultural confusion of our national moment. I don’t say anything you don’t already know when I say we now live in a sexually saturated culture. Consider that over Spring Break, I saw news focused on the following:
First, Victoria’s Secret has rolled out a plan to market their products toward middle school-aged girls. Not coincidentally, anecdotal data shows that one of the fastest growing demographics in using internet pornography is this same group of young people. And the Christian sector is by no means immune.
Second, news and blogs have been the focus on the U.S. Supreme Court’s current review of cases revolving around same-sex marriage. Sexually related saturation almost everywhere we turn in popular culture.
The first concern above is an example of how our culture is pushing to ever younger ages exposure to issues best left to more mature young people. Our young people need to remember Paul’s admonition to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
But my concern in this column is more on the second issue above. An overwhelming percentage of American teens and “twenty-somethings” now support normalization of what was unthinkable just 40 years ago. Adding to this cultural force are the voices of conservative politicians and even some quite popular “evangelical” leaders in recent days. Rob Bell, one of these popular speakers, recently was asked if he was in favor of “marriage equality.” Bell stated that he is “for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think that the church needs to just. . . this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”
Of course, he and many others don’t really mean this when they say it. They don’t mean that they affirm all people wherever they are – including those who abuse others, or who, for example, practice pedophilia or other behaviors. The popular movement of inclusion and acceptance is quite selective. But something has happened to Christian thinking that has enabled so many, so quickly, to abandon historic Christian faith and practice in these areas.
What is a 30-, 40- or 50-something Christian parent to do?
First, the American experience over the last generation has elevated personal happiness and fulfillment to a sacrosanct level. Combine this with staggering advances in medical and reproductive novelty, and suddenly any combination of two people can, in some sense (according to the wisdom of our day), be parents of children and find their happiness and fulfillment in formulas that are contrary to all that has provided the building blocks of every culture on every continent for the last 5,000+ years.
Second, we must remember that Truth is not determined by popular opinion. Truth is not the product of our subjective experience, but comes from something objective outside of us. I have often told students (with apologies to the Francophiles among us) that even if 99% of all Frenchmen were to decide that 2+2 = 4.5 because they like it that way, such an overwhelmingly popular consensus does not in any way change reality. Politician Rob Portman demonstrated both of these predilections in mid-March when, in an editorial he declared his support for same-sex marriage because, “Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.”
We do not have sufficient space to address all that this brief statement says. But suffice it to say, an initial error is that the Bible’s overarching theme is not love and compassion (as important as they are). The glory of God and the salvation of lost and broken people for God’s glory is the overarching theme. And the Bible is quite clear that while we are all created by God and in His image, His children are born by faith, not biology. Jesus clearly says that even within the religious professionals (Pharisees) in Israel, in fact, many were children not of God but of the devil (John 8:42-44).
Walt Mueller (who in the past has spoken to us at The Geneva School) recently wrote that when the Pharisees confronted Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus did not say to this woman, “This is the world we are living in and I affirm your adultery” . . . or “love and compassion trump the wrongness of your adultery.” Rather Jesus confronted her sin, forgave her, and implored her to “go now and leave your life of sin.” His recent blog on this issue is worth reading at: http://learningmylines.blogspot.com/2013/03/rob-bell-homosexual-marriage-and-our.html.
Another writer, Kevin DeYoung summarizes that our culture has been won over on this issue by the concepts of progress, love, rights, equality, and tolerance. What Christian can be against these wonderful qualities? His article (also worth reading at: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/03/27/why-the-arguments-for-gay-marriage-are-persuasive/) answers this well.
In light of all this I encourage you (and of course our students) to remember two things. First, the Good News of Jesus Christ assumes the fundamentally bad news that we (especially Americans) tend to forget: we are all – every human being — much more profoundly broken people than we care to admit. We are all in need of the saving grace of Christ. We seek not to live like Pharisees bound by rules and law that lack graciousness and tolerance. But neither should we fall into the mentality of our day that approves of things that God clearly condemns. We should, in accord with historic faith, boldly declare that we are sinners saved by grace and we seek to live humbly, not self-righteously, in accord with all that God has said. And we are well reminded that the list of sins condemned by the New Testament includes (in the same lists) not only homosexual behavior but also greed, envy, gossip, lying, drunkenness, and more (see for example, Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6: 9-10; and 1 Tim. 1: 8-11).
And second, we need to encourage each other and our students, by the grace of God, according to Paul’s prayer for the Philippian believers: “it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9). Excellence, purity, blamelessness sound a lot like “goodness, truth, and beauty.”
Only genuine love for God will spare us from the loves of the world (1 John 2:15-17). As parents, we are called both to shield our children from and also train them to resist the world’s strongest fallen urges and passions, those which our culture too often calls us to tolerate, accept, endorse, and even practice. We must seek to bring our students into being bright young people who love good, true, and beautiful things, so that they might “shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15). I have counseled some of our recent graduates, who are pressured daily on their college campuses to accept and endorse the current drift toward same-sex tolerance to reply respectfully like this: “I understand that there has been a strong cultural shift in the last 40-50 years toward normalizing and accepting same-sex relationships. With all due respect and humility, I choose to abide with the truth that has guided the Judeo-Christian tradition for the last three thousand years.” I have been castigated by young people in Facebook conversations for such a stance. Dismissively, some have said, “You are old, and your old ideas, like slavery, will die with you.” But I gently respond that Truth will still be true whether I live or die.
This is the issue our young people will face in their generation. May God give us the grace to understand this task and to stand against the strong currents which seek to sweep our children away into cultural confusion.