I have had a lot of opportunity recently (last few months) to think about culture and the gospel. I was privileged enough to sit in a class that discussed the Christian worldview of everything including moral issues. Instead of talking about the ones that we as Christians already have a good understanding of (i.e., abortion, homosexuality, etc.), my professor decided to talk about racism, a lesser talked about subject. It was a profound time in my life when I started to understand the whole conversation much more clearly (shout out to Dr. B and Richie Luna).
On top of this, many discussions of transgender issues came out as well, and I, of course, read Rachel Held Evans’ perspective on the whole thing.
To put it succinctly, I have had a good amount of time to spend thinking, discussing, and wrestling with these issues and there is a tension here that perhaps Christians do not realize, and it is one that I am coming to feel.
This is the tension of love and truth. I’ve noticed that more progressive Christians are more focused on social issues and cultural reform by the power of love (which there could be a much longer discussion on what it means to love). On the other hand, more conservative Christians are concerned about doctrine and beliefs. If I had to choose which camp I’d place myself in, I would say I’m much more conservative, but as I’ve said, I am feeling a tension of love and truth.
This tension exists, I believe, because there is confusion and grayness. Let’s take the transgender topic: the progressive Christians are crying out to love these people and accept them as they are. Conservative Christians are crying out that transgenderism (the belief that you can choose your gender) is wrong. I feel this tension because Christians are only demarcated as such because of our beliefs. Someone will certainly quote John 13:35 where Jesus says, “By this [loving one another] everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Certainly this is true, but non-Christians also express what we identify as “love.” Both a Christian and non-Christian could go out every week and give meals to homeless people, but those people won’t know the person giving them food is a Christian simply because of his kindness towards him. While it is true that Christians should be known for this, doctrine is at the heart of that love.
Because Christians are separated by their doctrine (and thus their actions), we do need to draw lines and separate ourselves from the world. BUT, we also need to love as Christ loved. Let me propose this in the case of transgender:
Yes, let’s decide that this is something that is not acceptable, but let us then provide a safe place for people struggling with gender dysphoria to come and discuss their struggles if they are a Christian and struggling with gender dysphoria. I remember having a place to come and discuss my struggle with pornography and lust as a high school student, so why should there not be such a place for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling with a different sin?
I don’t think many Christians think this way unfortunately and that is evidenced by another blog I read criticizing The Babylon Bee for making headlines such as “Brave Man Self-Identifies As Man”. I gotta say, I sympathize with that critic. That is not helpful satire. We are only distancing ourselves from those very people we claim to love and want to know the gospel.
The same is true, I’ve noticed, of the discussion of race. I admit that any time I heard “Black Lives Matter” I rolled my eyes at what seemed like the unwarranted the cry for attention. (This is a whole other discussion in and of itself and I am aware of many great leaders in the theological world having conversations and talking about this).
We live in such a privileged society where freedom of speech reigns, but let’s be careful, pensive, and thoughtful about our freedom of speech. I think Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians is an apt word to remember here (though the context is freedom from the law, the general principle of freedom and responsibility, I think, applies): “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
All this to say, there is gray area and there are a lot of things that one especially such as I (a white, conservative, Christian) do not understand about some of the conversations going on. I, especially, was grossly misinformed about the discussion of race and racism. As well, I have now thought more thoroughly about the fact that people have homosexual and gender dysphoric desires and how I, as a herald of the gospel of Christ, respond to this reality other than just saying, “you’re wrong.”
I want to be clear, though, I think both sides have aspects of truth. Conservative Christians nobly and passionately seek to protect and keep the gospel and the faith clear and unstained by the world. Progressives Christians, I hope*, seek to wrestle with Jesus’ command and example to love and care for the marginalized, broken, and hurting.
I know this was not a very eloquent piece of writing or that it even had any flow. If anything, writing this was for my own sake to flesh out my thoughts. If they may be helpful to anyone else, however, then may God be glorified and may His love be known through us.
*The reason I say I hope is because, sometimes, some progressive Christians I’ve spoken with just want to be controversial and pious in their assertions of “loving like Jesus.” Granted, Conservatives can be accused of dead orthodoxy and desiring to be contentious, though the conservative Christians I was thinking of show no evidence of such.