If you are like me, and were part of evangelical church culture in the 90’s, the following scenario may be familiar to you. The worship set is done…and the church service is moving towards the offering. As the pastor bows his head to pray over the offering, someone in the church moves to the platform, grabs the microphone, and quietly waits for the accompaniment track to start…this my friends, was the setup for what my church called the “special music number”.
It cannot be stressed enough that although each week the setup and place in the service were the same, not all “special music numbers” were created equally. There were, of course, times that when you raised your head from the prayer, you saw on the platform ready to perform either an individual, duo, or group that you just knew were going to do a wonderful job. Their voices blended, their spirits were humble, the song selection was appropriate and well planned for the flow of the service, and the taped accompaniment was only producing a slight hissing sound (as the cassette tape had not been sufficiently worn out by over-practice). All in all, in these moments, the “special music number” blessed the congregation and was a wonderful addition to the Sunday morning service.
But then…there were the other morning services…with the other kind of special music numbers…that were not so “edifying” as the others. These were the days when you opened your eyes and before you on the stage was an individual or couple, and your first thought was, “Huh…I didn’t know they could sing.” And then the music started…probably some Sandi Patti, Steve Green, or Amy Grant (pre-Heart in Motion Amy Grant, thank you very much) song began to play and you may have thought, “Well, that’s ambitious.” And then the “singing” began. In the next few moments of the “special music number” your mind was flooded with a myriad of thoughts…some decidedly less “Christian” than others. “Who let this woman have the microphone?!” and “Oh, I hope there are no visitors at church this morning!” were some of the more prominent thoughts running through my head in these moments. The most important task at hand in these moments was always what I called “face management”. This is the act of making sure that whatever angst, torture, repulsion, or visceral discomfort you were going through on the inside, your face remained placid and agreeable on the outside. These were the unspoken rules of church during the “special music number”. I always marveled at the pastoral staff’s ability to endure these moments, particularly because both of the senior pastors that I grew up under were a part of extremely musically talented families. To maintain a face that expresses, “Ah!! What beautiful music!” when you know darn good and well that the atrocity at hand has no resemblance to music, always seemed to reveal a level of virtue or sanctification that I had not yet attained.
It is a good thing that these blessed “tests of endurance and character” only lasted the length of a song, and in three to five minutes, all would be well and we could collectively move on. I will say that, no matter how bad the singing was, one thing the Lord was constantly reminding me of was that what we see on the exterior does not always represent an accurate image of the heart of the singer. They may have sounded like a screaming goat getting slaughtered, but could have internally been the most precious, humble, and pleasing offering to the Lord. Conversely, the musical offering could have been delivered with skill, perfect pitch, perfect rhythm, and perfect harmony, but the performer(s) may have been full of pride, arrogance, and a complete lack of worship, and been absolutely offensive to the Lord. Only the Lord knows the heart.
Why do I share this silly analogy? Over the last couple of months, a consistent question that I get asked during the Q&A portion of my speaking engagements is, “What are your thoughts on Kim Davis?” Now, there is a slight chance you may not know who Kim Davis is… So in brief, Kim Davis is a county clerk in Kentucky who has refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and then all marriage licenses. After the Supreme Court decision in June, she was ordered by the Governor of Kentucky to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. This was a problem for her. Kim stated, "I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God's definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience."
Kim made the decision to defy the order, was brought to court, and subsequently ordered to comply. She did not, citing that she was acting under the authority of God, and was then found in contempt of court for her continued actions. She was sent to jail for five days, was released with the order to issue the licenses, and has continued to hold her position to date. She has been demonized, caricatured, threatened, ridiculed, and jailed, all the while standing firm that for her to comply with the law would violate her conscience.
To be perfectly honest… I am deeply conflicted in my feelings and opinions about Kim Davis. On one hand, the ordeal has brought to attention the reality that those who have a conscientious objection to gay marriage are going to face greater marginalization and pressure. This is a reality, and watching it unfold is deeply concerning to me as one who holds to a traditional and scriptural view of sexuality and marriage. On the other hand, watching the unfolding responses by many who hold to a traditional view of marriage and sexuality, I feel like I am back at a Sunday morning service sitting through a bad “special music number”. The whole thing feels cringe-worthy. There are sour notes everywhere…and I really hope no visitors are watching and listening. Unlike the special music number, this hasn’t ended in three to five minutes, and it seems impossible to move on.
I believe on of the most significant reasons this situation feels so incredibly cringe-worthy to me, is because it is as though it has become more important for some in the Christian community to “defend the truth” about marriage (with any amount of indignation justified), than it is to lovingly represent the character of the One who made marriage.
I was reading through the Book of Matthew recently, and the following passage caught me:
16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?” Matthew 23:16-17
Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred? In Calvin’s commentary on the Book of Matthew, he wrote this in response to this passage:
“…the Jews had more reverence for the gold of the temple, and for the sacred offerings, than for the temple and the altar. But the sacredness of the offerings depended on the temple and the altar, and was only something inferior and accessory.”
I am afraid that many of us are becoming much like the Pharisees, placing more honor on the gold (defending marriage, religious freedom, the right to refuse), than on accurately representing the heart of the One who made marriage. It is my concern that in our efforts to “fight for righteousness” we are obscuring the whole of God’s character. I think this is a result of some in the Christian community creating a false dichotomy for believers, stating that there is no way to maintain the integrity of your conviction and conscience, while also honoring the law…whether that be in issuing licenses, or providing a service for a gay wedding.
Like so many things in the Christian life, the truth seems to lie in the tension. Truth and love together. That may another cringe-worthy aspect to the Kim Davis scenario. There does not seem to be a whole lot of love or respect being displayed. In fact, it feels like the greatest concern is not for the advancement of the Kingdom of God, but rather the preservation of rights. This makes me cringe because it, in my opinion, is severely out of balance.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am concerned about religious liberty. I am concerned about the direction our nation/world is headed. I am concerned about the growing hostility towards Christianity… and yet, these issues are secondary for me. When it comes to my conscience, the greater concern for me is not whether or not I might have to offer a service for a marriage that is recognized by our government but contrary to my faith. Rather my greatest concern is that, in all I do, am I displaying the most accurate representation of the gospel, Christ’s character, and God’s heart I can to those I engage with.
In “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis wrote this haunting and convicting passage:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. ”
My goal, no matter what, is to create the least amount of obstacles to God for those I interact with. This does not mean that I water down the truth of scripture, or soft sell sin. But it does mean that the way I interact with those who are not living lives submitted to the Lordship of Christ should be done in the most winsome way possible, while holding honestly, and openly to my convictions. Remember, sinners were not repelled by Christ’s righteousness…in fact, they were DRAWN to him. He was called the “friend of sinners”. By contrast, it was the religious Pharisees that were most offended by Jesus’s words and actions. Jesus engaged with those caught in sin. He called people to repentance, for sure, but his harshest tones were reserved for the self-righteous Pharisees, not the immoral, broken, deceived, and carnal. With these people he ate, he served, he touched, he drank, he laughed, he related, he loved…and he spoke truth, graciously calling them to surrender their lives to a Father was ready to forgive them, and transform them.
I believe an important question every believer should wrestle with is this: Does the way I live out my convictions about marriage, sexuality, and the holiness of God help people move closer to God, or does it create additional barriers and push people further away? In their book “Untamed” Alan and Debra Hirsch write this about the Pharisees of Jesus’ day:
“They were sincere, loved their scriptures, believed in the supernatural, were waiting for the Messiah, were decent and morally upright, were zealous, tithed beyond duty, were “missional”, and maintained Israel’s identity and tradition in a time of occupation. In many ways they were exemplary religious people. It’s not hard to see how they are very much like us! We believe that if we do not read them as ourselves, we miss much of the truth of what Jesus has to say to us, and we will likely commit precisely the same sins that are associated with them. It is a problem every religious person encounters in life. Religious people get very fussy about “things” and then become coercive about it. If we are not careful, we can end up defending truths and at the same time miss Truth- just like the Pharisees. It’s all about how we INHABIT our beliefs and how we allow the power of our beliefs to inhabit or mold us.”
I recently received the criticism that I evidently “don’t care” about religious freedom, or the plight of those like Kim Davis, and business owners who are objecting to providing services to gay and lesbian couples. This criticism was based on what I wrote in a few of my recent blog posts “Sitting In White Folding Chairs” and “The Last Friday In June”. That is simply untrue. I am deeply concerned about what is happening in our culture. I greatly appreciate and depend upon the freedom to exercise my faith. I am deeply disturbed by the trend culturally to demonize and marginalize people of faith because of their convictions regarding marriage and sexuality. I am also deeply concerned and deeply disturbed by the shaming that I have seen, and that I have personally experienced, by others in the Christian community for not placing the issues of religious freedom as my top priority, or by making the decision to be present at my brother’s wedding. That I have the audacity to suggest that a Christian can, in good conscience, attend a gay wedding or offer their services to such an event seems a great offense.
Here are a few difficult questions that I hope we all take the time to contend with; Do we as Christians care more about our right to religious liberty than we do about revealing the heart of God to those around us? Do we care that there is one man and one woman in every marriage more than we care that the convictions we have about what makes a holy, healthy, and Christ revealing marriage actually mold and manifest themselves in our marriages and the marriages in our faith community? Do we care more that we have the protected right not to “participate” in a same sex marriage by providing a service (either cake or marriage licenses), or is it a greater violation of my religion that, in an effort to avoid the former, I misrepresent the heart of God to those around me and push them further away from Him?
To be clear, I am not suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive. I believe that we can, respectfully, gently, and wisely work to preserve religious freedoms. And we should. But I also wholeheartedly believe that this should be secondary at best. And if we are to do so effectively, and in a way that more accurately represents the character of God, it will have to start with learning how to show respect and deference to those we may profoundly disagree with. I believe it will take some examination of our hearts and a true examination of what is actually a violation of our conscience or religious freedoms, versus what is something that we would just rather not do, or feel we shouldn’t have to do. We need to learn better how to not just present a defense of a Holy view of sexuality and marriage, but also INHABIT IT, all while maintaining an attitude that reflects the character of the One who established Holy Matrimony. In short, in our speech and in our actions, we must accurately reflect the heart and character of Jesus.
This is an incredibly complicated season for the Church. Like I said, this all feels cringe-worthy. There are sour notes everywhere…and although I really wish no visitors are watching and listening, it is clear they are…
I wish this conflict between the LGBT community, and Kim Davis, and others in the Christian community was playing out differently. I wish the person on the stage was singing more beautifully. I wish this whole “special music number” wasn’t as painful to sit through. And yet, even though I wish all these things, the lesson from Sunday morning, and a really bad Sandi Patty rendition still ring true: I absolutely cannot judge Kim Davis’s heart. I don’t know if she is a gracious individual who truly grieves for the hearts of those caught in sin. I don’t know if her decisions are coming from a place of self-righteousness or genuine concern. I don’t know her heart. God does.
As far as the complex nature of the legality of Kim Davis’s actions goes, or to the increasingly complex fight constitutionally for religious freedom, I am not an authority on these things in the least. I will leave it to more passionate, articulate, and informed minds to wrestle that aspect out. My convictions on what violates my faith rests more on how I honor the Lord in my marriage, how I steward my sexuality, and how I love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and how I love my neighbor. I find that in living openly about my convictions gives me great latitude to engage in relationship, because my engagement and interactions are not misunderstood as endorsing or celebrating sin. I believe, and hope, that this resembles Jesus.
My prayer and conclusion in all of this is simple: Church, may we please remember that whatever we encounter, there are people we are interacting with whose very eternity may be affected by how we choose to interact with them. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will give us all a greater understanding of how to engage each person and scenario with truth and love, so that whatever our interaction, we help them walk a few steps closer to the arms of The Father. Let us work to never push them further away.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13