The recent ruling of the US Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, which has enshrined same-sex marriage as a constitutional right across the USA, was by any measure a momentous one. The internet and global media exploded with the news, with the majority of the opinion pieces in the mainstream press (at least in the West) being exultant — even triumphalistic — in tone.
Where the cultural reverberations were really evident, however, was on social media. Quite apart from the official news outlets and blogs, the advent of same-sex marriage in the USA also lit up Facebook and Twitter, quite literally, as the "Celebrate Pride" Facebook application gave users the possibility to overlay their profile picture with the colours of the rainbow (a symbol of gay pride), while the #celebratepride hashtag ruled twitter.
With the campaign now rapidly shifting focus to trans-rights, from where I am sitting it seems that there is no more doubt that, at least in the West, the sexual revolution is not only here to stay, it is now the new status quo.
Since it had mostly been Christians who were seeking to prevent such a law coming into effect, these developments have been construed by many as a major defeat for — and even the death of — cultural Christianity.
While many Christians (myself included) believe that it is not actually such a bad thing for cultural Christianity to die, nevertheless, in light of the above, it behoves me as a Christian minister to fashion some kind of response, both for the sake of Christian believers who are wondering how to proceed from here and for people in the wider culture, who are likewise watching and waiting to see what the church will do.
In response to the #celebratepride movement, then, I would like to propose the following:
In the face of the loss of the same-sex marriage culture war, rather than lamenting the death of cultural Christianity… Christians would do well to see these events as an opportunity to #celebratehumility.
Here are my reasons why humility should be our response:
1) A Christian is someone who believes God is in control of history
If same-sex marriage happened, it is because God has allowed it to happen. We might not understand why God has allowed our culture to go in the direction it has but it is not our call to second-guess God and we should not allow any circumstance, positive or negative, to rock our confidence in the simple fact that God is still in control. What this means in practical terms is that we need to get over our aggrieved selves. We need to remember that we were never in control of events to begin with. These events should humble us first and foremost before God.
2) A Christian is someone who believes that they are not a better person than those they disagree with
The Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that, in terms of morality, what sets apart a Christian believer is not their moral excellence but rather their honesty about their own moral failure. It is crucial for us to remember that a Christian is not someone who is more moral than a non-Christian. Simply through a cursory glance, it is clear that many non-Christians lead just as moral and often more moral lives than their Christian friends. There is therefore no justification on our part for moral superiority, condescension, disdain and scorn, since we are not approaching our opponents from a moral high ground. Rather, we stand humbled on the scorched earth of God’s judgement on our sin, born graciously for us, in our place, by Jesus Christ. So instead of rushing to point the finger at the sin of our non-Christian friends, we should first be weeping over our own. Attending a gay pride festival in order to apologise to gay people for the callous ways in which Christians have treated them might be gimmicky but it is certainly more in line with the heart of Christianity, which teaches that repentance — rather than haughtiness — is what we should be known for. A Christian is someone who does not disdain those he or she disagrees with.
3) A Christian is someone who wins over his or her opponents by losing to them
As we noted before, Christians in the West have lost the ‘culture war’; there is no doubt about that anymore… But apart from the fact that humility requires us not to be bad losers, this loss also gives us the space to ask the question: “Was this really the most important battle?" In fact is it ‘ever’ desirable for Christians to ‘win' a culture war? Christians are not supposed to win by dominating their opponents. A Christian might be someone who holds firmly to their confidence in Jesus, who persuasively exhorts people to hear and accept the Gospel of Jesus... but they should never be someone who seeks to ‘impose’ that Gospel on others, for that would be to blunt its power. The power of the Gospel is unique in that it is a power that flows out of the greatest loss in history: the Son of God, dying on a cross for his enemies, reviled by the world and abandoned by his friends. Jesus did not truly begin to win hearts and minds until ‘after’ his great loss — until ‘after’ his humiliation. If Jesus did not begin to win people over before losing to them, why should we expect better than our Lord? A Christian is someone who loves and serves, not crushes, those around them — even if that means they themselves will be crushed. As C.S.Lewis put it, “Every story of conversion is a story of blessed defeat.".
Does all of the above perhaps give the impression that the way forward is to abandon our distinctive Christian sexual ethic and finally concede that we need an ethics update to bring us into line with the wider culture? Not at all. My point here is not that we should lose our distinctiveness as Christian believers within an increasingly pagan culture, it is that our distinctiveness as Christians should be seen first and foremost in our humility rather than in our pride. To celebrate some kind of ‘superior’ sexual ethic is to celebrate pride; it is to adopt an apologetic of superiority rather than of service. The Gospel, however, calls us to boast only in the cross of Jesus and this means that we do not boast in our sexual ethic, our righteousness, our thriftiness or anything else that is of ourselves — we boast only in Christ himself, the original and ultimate loser, who by his loss has nonetheless won our hearts (and the hearts of countless others) and transformed our lives.
At the end of the day, we need to move on. Not from our beliefs but from our insistence that the non-Christian culture conform to our beliefs. This is a cultural relic from Christendom and it is something that is neither essential to the existence of Christianity, nor conducive to the health of Christianity.
This might seem like crazy advice to some… but it is really the only way to depoliticize the situation, to restore calm debate with those who truly wish to listen and to ‘be’ Christians in both word and deed. Our cultural instincts might rail against this, but that will always happen when people encounter the Gospel. As Thomas Schmidt put it: “The contemporary culture of victimisation, where fundamentalists of the right and left whine in harmony, can hardly comprehend a God who embraces victimisation in order to redeem people, one at a time."
That is also the reason why the #celebratehumility hashtag must die upon arrival and be laid to rest before it ever leaves the confines of this article. As a literary device for the purposes of this article, it has served its purpose but it is not a new strategy. We do not celebrate pride... but neither should we celebrate our humility. We should simply humble ourselves, without any fanfare, and seek to love and serve our neighbours for Christ’s sake in the midst of a new and (apparently) more ominous future for Christian believers.
Only then will people truly begin to celebrate humility, as they celebrate the humility of the servant-King, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has transformed us and can transform them too.