The place where Jesus gets the roughest, at least to modern ears, especially modern protestant ears, is anytime the idea of discipleship or faithfulness or sanctification comes up. When Jesus turns the crowd and says something offensive or obnoxious or just strange, you can bet he’s talking about walking the Christian way. And that is what today’s text is about.
As this sermon lays out, following Jesus’ pictures, the financing of the tower is secure. Jesus has already paid it. Likewise Jesus has already won the victory over the enemy. We need not fear. But the tower needs to be built. The war needs to be fought. And we are called to do that. Yet many will turn away from it. And they will make peace with the world simply because they wish to avoid the cross.
But what Ross and Michael and Rod are really concerned about, it seems to me, is the general culture of growing intolerance of religious views on homosexuality, and the potential marginalization – even stigmatization – of traditional Christians.
I sure hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s not something a free society should try to control by law. There is a big difference between legal coercion and cultural isolation. The former should be anathema – whether that coercion is aimed at gays or at fundamentalist Christians. The latter? It’s the price of freedom. The way to counter it is not, in my view, complaints about being victims (this was my own advice to the gay rights movement a couple of decades ago, for what it’s worth). The way to counter it is to make a positive argument about the superior model of a monogamous, procreative, heterosexual marital bond. There is enormous beauty and depth to the Catholic argument for procreative matrimony – an account of sex and gender and human flourishing that contains real wisdom. I think that a church that was able to make that positive case – rather than what is too often a merely negative argument about keeping gays out, or the divorced in limbo – would and should feel liberated by its counter-cultural message.
He is absolutely right. I’ve often felt frustrated by the current conversation on these issues. First because I could feel myself just being negative and legalistic. Don’t get me wrong, the law of God is good and wise. We should follow it. But the law never wins any converts. Secondly because these conversations always brought up the doctrine of election and my personal verses of horror (Isaiah 6:8-13, Hebrews 6:4-8, Luke 19:26, Mark 4:9). Some things are quite clear to me: 1) marriage as a reflection of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32) is one of the concrete ways we experience being conformed to Christ. There are others, but no place in my experience rivals the crucible of learning to deny yourself and live for ones totally unlike you (yet like you) as marriage leading to children. The cross and the glory are more perfectly shown in that one flesh union than any other relationship. 2) the bible and Jesus are quite clear about the centrality of monogamy. Yes, Abraham was polygamous and Solomon had a harem, but the bible never approves of these things. They are simply noted. What is preached is Jesus pointing at Genesis with one man and one woman and God putting them together (Mark 10:1-12). The others are examples of the fallen world. They were allowed because of the hardness of our hearts, but God constantly paints himself as the bridegroom with steadfast love or covenant faithfulness. Go read the story of Hosea to understand just how deep that runs. 3) This ordering is both a participation in God and a following after God’s own heart. 4) Rejecting this is in some deep way a rejection of God. God is merciful. Maybe it does not go to outright rejection, but it is on that line. It brings one right up to the line of ‘even what you have will be taken away’. I get shrill at that line. Stop, you don’t know where you are going. 5) Tossing aside all theology, any society that does not take monogamous marriage aimed toward procreation as the held up ideal is in for a world of hurt. We can see this in our society. All the best social science says this. This isn’t even a practical question. What this is is an example of putting personal license and liberty for rich upper-crusty folks ahead of the good of society. Those things are clear to me, but a majority do not agree. It might even be a majority within the church, God be merciful.
But after reading Sullivan much of that goes away. Christians are no longer the bedrock of this society. We no longer must take responsibility for society as a whole. We do not live in Christendom and are not one revival away from reanimating it. It has rejected the Christian witness. The watchtowers have been torn down. Remaining at those posts calling out warnings not wanted nor heeded is not the call. The call is to offer the living water, to lead beside still waters to refresh the soul. You want the joy and fulfillment of a lifetime spent in the image of God? Come and see.