Our readers are no doubt aware of the pending Supreme Court case regarding same-sex “marriage.” Because of the timeliness and significance of the issue, we will be publishing a series of daily posts this week only, from Scott Allen, the president of Disciple Nations Alliance.
In part three of his series, “Can Gays and Christians Co-Exist in America,” Dan McLaughlin examines why the legalization of same-sex marriage has become such an explosive confrontation, and one that both sides view as an existential struggle. He begins by drawing a helpful distinction between sin and “scandal.”
Christians who are otherwise inclined to ‘live and let live’ are increasingly faced with demands that they provide positive celebration and endorsement for sin.
To sin, to break God’s moral commands, is human. It is central to all Christian thinking, to the very purpose of the incarnation and the crucifixion, to recognize that every one of us is a sinner. No Christian can refuse to associate with sinners. Jesus made a point of doing so, and when the Pharisees questioned him for hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors, he responded (at Mark 2:17): ‘Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.’
Christ calls us to mercy towards sinners, in recognition that we are all sinners. Our calling to love the sinner while hating the sin, however, must clearly be distinguished from minimizing sin, calling what is evil good, or encouraging other people to sin. This, according to Dan McLaughlin, is what the Catholic Church historically refers to as “scandal.”
Jesus says, at Matthew 18:6-7: ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!’ (see also Luke 17:1) … As the Catholic Catechism puts it, elaborating on these passages from Matthew and Luke:
“Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense … Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to ‘social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.’”
Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.
It is not hypocritical for sinners to profess virtue and denounce sin; it is precisely what the Gospel demands of us, sinners though we are. What Jesus denounces as hypocritical and cowardly is the opposite—pridefully refusing to admit sin and portraying sin as virtue, which causes others to be led astray when they emulate its example.
… We all are called to confession and repentance. Every sin, no matter how bad, can be forgiven … [However] to hold up sin in public as if it were virtue is scandal … This is the doctrine at the core of Christian resistance to any sort of public celebration of same-sex relationships. The problem is not that homosexuals are sinning, for all of us sin … The problem is not associating with sinners, which is not just permitted but commanded to Christians. The problem is celebrating sin as if it were virtue.
McLaughlin explains that while why many devout Christian bakers, florists, pastors, and photographers don’t have any problem associating with homosexuals, even befriending them, and providing them with services, they draw a line when it comes to participating in a same-sex commitment ceremonies.
… it crosses the line from tolerance and mercy towards our fellow sinners to the perpetuation of the idea that a sin is not sin, but a thing to be celebrated. It crosses from forgiveness of sin, which Jesus’ example commands us to offer, to justification of sin, which he condemns in the strongest language he uses anywhere in the Gospels.
You have the right in a free society to call your relationship whatever you want, but when you demand that I call it what you want, that is the point where your rights end, and mine begin. A Christian who surrenders to government or social pressure to celebrate sin has committed the grave sin of scandal.
This brings us to why this is such an explosive confrontation, and one that both sides view as an existential struggle … The same-sex marriage fight … has been framed, not as a battle over conduct, but as a battle over identity … [in] which differences of opinion are impossible. The ideology behind the same-sex marriage movement and other ‘LGBT issues’ as they are commonly presented derives from the premises that 1) sexual orientation is integral to personal identity, 2) sexual relationships are inseparable from sexual orientation, and 3) any criticism of homosexual relationships is therefore a criticism of the person’s identity itself—an expression of bigotry equivalent … to racism because it casts moral disapproval on an immutable characteristic.
But … this is not at all how [orthodox] Christians view these questions. Christians … view heterosexual marriage and heterosexual sex as behaviors subject to moral principles. To the Christian mind, the idea that homosexual sex and homosexual relationships are exempt from these same moral principles on grounds of being an “identity” is … in a theological sense, scandalous.
At the same time, Christians … view our status as Christ-followers, created in the image and likeness of God, as central to our own identities …[Therefore] to treat a legitimate Christian teaching as bigotry that must be stamped out, rather than merely subjected to external disagreement … is, ultimately, to treat the Christians themselves as people whose identity must be stamped out by society.
The common LGBT activist view that sexual relationships are inseparable from individual identity is not going away, and Christians—while we may find that worldview wrong … [we] must find a way to coexist with it. But coexistence is possible only if the distinct Christian view of identity is also treated as legitimate. If it is not, then the continued presence of Christians in society cannot and eventually will not be tolerated.
For people coming of age after the Sexual Revolution and trying to stay faithful to Christ’s teachings, it is commonplace to encounter unmarried heterosexual peers in one’s teens and early twenties who are sexually active. It quickly becomes apparent, even if spending your time around mostly churchgoing Christians, that a great many of your friends will be people who have no problem with unmarried sex, and engage in it without much visible guilt. Can you coexist with unmarried people having sex? Of course you can, and you’ll have a lot fewer friends if you can’t.
Most modern young people face this reality. Some fall victim to scandal—being surrounded by [and in many cases participating in sexually immoral practices] … they lose the ability to judge it wrong.
Those who do maintain their principles learn to balance that with coexistence, not grudgingly but joyfully. The same principle extends to how Christians coexist with Jews, atheists, and Christians of other denominations … Likewise, it is no contradiction for a Christian to take the same approach to gay friends, gay co-workers, gay political allies … We do not demand … that they give up their sexual relationships, and they should not expect to demand … that we give up our faith or our principles.
But from the very outset of the same-sex marriage debate, LGBT activists chose to pursue a maximalist litigation strategy deliberately modeled on the civil rights movement’s drive to destroy Jim Crow. This strategy by its nature de-emphasized … tolerance in favor of a winner-take-all battle for control of the law.
Adoption of this model necessarily required suppressing any distinction between identity and behavior … The ‘Jim Crow’ strategy focused on litigation far more than persuasion, with activists using equal-protection arguments to gain judicial recognition of same-sex marriages.
… even today, LGBT political activists strenuously oppose having the question settled by the voters or in a legislative compromise of any kind rather than in a winner-take-all court battle, belying their confident assertions of overwhelming popular support … The result has been an angry stalemate that waits almost entirely on the decision of one 78-year-old judge, Anthony Kennedy.
- Scott Allen