How to Evade the New Anti-Christian Reality — And Why That’s Unwise
The United Methodist Church has a global vote on homosexuality in the church coming up next year. If not for that, this story could have been told about any number of other churches.
But it was a United Methodist Church where I heard a departing associate pastor tell the congregation, “Whether you understand the issues or not, I urge you not to side with the group that only exists to some certain people out of leadership.”
It was a pro-gay message, and a foolish appeal for the congregation to decide without even studying the matter. The senior pastor didn’t agree; his views on marriage and morality were thoroughly biblical. But the bomb had been dropped, right from the pulpit. It was certain to have an impact where it landed
I talked with that senior pastor shortly after, and said, “You know, there’s bound to be a lot of people in the church who are confused over this.” He agreed. So I said, “What you think about announcing a meeting next Tuesday night; not a sermon, but just a conversation in the church lounge, for people who want to talk about it.”
He answered, “Oh, I don’t know, Tom. I don’t like debate.”
I sighed. We both knew the question was certain to heat up more and more as the global leadership vote drew near. So I said just as gently as I could, “Pastor, you’ve got a choice. You can either get ahead of this debate or it’s going to get ahead of you. And if it does, then you’re going to see it turn really hot.”
To my knowledge the church has still never had that conversation.
Denial, Confusion, Avoidance in the Church
This isn’t about just one church. There’s a lot of avoidance going on in Christianity these days. Sometimes it’s denial, sometimes it’s confusion, sometimes it’s just, “I don’t like debate.” Not every church avoids the issues, and in fact some are too willing to put up their fists and fight. But as I observe the American church scene, I see more Christians evading the new reality of the day than facing it.
What reality is that? It’s a dual reality, actually, for God is always in it. But the part we see on the ground has altered drastically. It includes death threats for one of my colleagues here at The Stream, just for standing for marriage and morality. Imagine that happening twenty years ago! The world has shifted under us.
Today’s Changing On-the-Ground Realities
Today’s on-the-ground reality includes an entire state — California, naturally, — on the verge of passing a law strictly limiting Christian speech and ministry. The law’s wording, strictly applied, could even mean banning the sale of Bibles there. It would outlaw many sermons. Some of my best friends stand to lose their livelihoods there if this bill passes.
It’s a reality that’s turning more hostile against Christianity every year. Come to think of it, my pastor might as well have said, “I don’t know, Tom. I don’t like reality.” And my answer could have been, “Pastor, you can either get ahead of this reality, or this reality is going to get ahead of you.”
This reality could show up in the form of a law like California’s being passed in your state. It could come more quickly, too, though, in your son’s or daughter’s announcement that they can’t believe what you’ve taught them any longer.
It could show up at work. A friend told me this week he can’t — and he repeated it, with emphasis: “CAN’T”— tell his co-workers he’s had lunch at Chick-Fil-A. Of course the problem is that Chick-Fil-A has stood for biblical marriage and morality, and it’s been labeled a “hate group” for it. It’s not that he’s hiding his beliefs; it’s just not worth the battle that a lunch mention would start.
Yet Reality Is Your Friend
We could evade all this — but why? There’s a saying in the business world, “Reality is your friend.” Whereas some leaders only like to hear the good news, and some subordinates would rather just say what leaders like to hear, good leaders know they can only make fully informed decisions if they’ve got all of reality in sight before them.
Churches could learn from that. We’ve got to face reality for what it is.
It’s a dual reality, as I said. God is always in it, more real than the most ominous death threat or anti-Christian law.
I wrote recently that I’ve been reading Jeremiah. He wrote chapters full of strong assurances of God’s redeeming love. Read chapter 31, where God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Or earlier, in chapter 29, where God speaks His good plan to restore Judah after its calamity.
Yet he was an on-the-ground realist if there ever was one. He predicted accurately the downfall of many nations, due to their rebellion against God. He kept reality fully before him: the great goodness of God, and the trouble his nation was in for rejecting God. We ought to be seeing reality the same way — especially as the world turns against Christ.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream and the author of Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens (Kregel Publications, 2016). Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.