Tuesday, August 03, 2010

INTO THE LOOKING GLASS

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NIV).

It will surprise no one to see this passage leading off a blog entry written by a Christian apologist. Sometimes I think that memorization of this verse should be mandatory for anyone entering into the apologetic realm. In truth, there is probably nary a Christian defender who hasn’t quoted it from time to time. We are more than eager to give our “answer” to you, sometimes even when you are not asking; even if it means raising our voice to speak over the top of you just to make sure we get out everything we (in our infinite wisdom) believe you simply must hear.

No, apologetics is not always done with “gentleness and respect.” Sometimes, those who speak maliciously of us are perfectly justified in doing so. But the problem is not limited to only the formal apologists. Too many Christians fail to understand that they are routinely giving answers in their every day lives. They may not realize it, but the world is watching. Sometimes questions are never explicitly asked, they are only formulated in the mind. Then the astute observer watches the behavior of the Christian masses and arrives at a conclusion without ever uttering a word.

So Christians, be on your guard. “Gentleness and respect” should define your entire lifestyle, not just your word choice in particular conversations with non-believers. This begs the question, are we as a group living our lives this way, such that anyone who speaks maliciously against us would be ashamed because of our good behavior?

Author Anne Rice is best known for her series of vampire novels, the most famous of which was made into the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt film, “Interview With the Vampire.” In 1998 she re-joined the Catholic Church that she abandoned in her youth and turned her writings over to the Christian genre. But last month, the following entry appeared on her Facebook page:

"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."

Quarrelsome? Hostile? Disputatious? Infamous? Many Christians upon hearing those adjectives would immediately begin presenting their defense. That’s not Christianity! Christianity is defined by love. In fact, the gospel points us to the ultimate definition of love in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ! We may start citing evidence about how the laws of the universe show God’s love for us and how He demonstrated this love by sending His son to die on the cross. All the while we are devoting our attention to disproving these descriptions rather than asking the more important question: Why were they attached to us in the first place?

The easy answer is “sin.” Human nature is to deflect any wrongdoing as far away from ourselves as possible, and Christians are no different. If someone is speaking poorly of us, it must be because they are still trapped in their sinful nature and are fighting against the gospel tooth and nail. And that is true, to a certain extent. But usually we carry that excuse way too far.

We love the sin excuse because it enables us to avoid the uncomfortable task of having to peer into the looking glass. If the problem is in “them” then we never need to look inside ourselves.

Dorian Gray sold his soul so that every sin he committed in his life would show upon the portrait he concealed from view rather than upon his perfectly young face. The horrid appearance taken on by the portrait over the years haunted him. It tore at his conscience until he finally decided to destroy it, destroying himself in the process. After all, the portrait was the true Dorian, not the fa├žade that walked the streets each day.

How many of us are Dorian Grays? To what ends would we travel to avoid having to face our own sins? As Christians we like to believe that we have already come to terms with our sinful natures. After all, isn’t that what happened when we accepted the gospel in the first place?

Our nature? Perhaps. But we still have a difficult time accepting individual sins. Is it possible that we are called quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious and infamous because we have engaged in conduct deserving of those titles?

In an interview, Anne Rice said that the last straw in her decision to leave the Catholic Church was the realization of the lengths that the church would go to in order to oppose same-sex marriage. Her comments are not reserved to the Catholic Church. She takes the Christian community as a whole to task. So have we as Christians done anything in connection with this issue to earn the labels she attached?

I believe homosexual activity is immoral and unbiblical. Anyone who has perused the resources on the Ten Minas website can explore my reasons for coming to this conclusion, but it stands on both secular and biblical grounds. But I am also not above accepting some blame for how this issue is handled.

I recently saw a picture of a Christian at a rally against homosexual marriage carrying a sign with a picture of two hangman’s nooses bearing the title “The Solution to Same Sex Marriage.” Where was the gentleness and respect in that?

Too often Christians forget who the real enemy is. Non-Christians are not your opponent. They are the people you are trying to rescue. Yet we treat them as our mortal enemies, launching venom and hatred instead of love and understanding.

We use the tag line, “Love the person, hate the sin,” but nobody has ever been converted by a slogan. We need to stop thinking we can address the world in two second sound bites and instead reflect upon how we sound to others.

I have heard Christians tell homosexuals that they do not really feel sexual attraction for members of the same sex. It is a learned behavior, not a biological drive. It seems that many of us are afraid that if we concede they just might legitimately be feeling what they claim to feel, that would somehow show that God “messed up” in His design.

Did God “mess up” because the rest of us feel the urge to sin? We are more than willing to chalk our own sinfulness up to the fall of humankind but for some reason will not grant that same privilege to homosexual dispositions. That sin must be the result of a conscious choice, not a fallen nature! Why? I cannot presume to know what others are thinking, but I would venture a guess it is because of our own prejudices and fear. God is not in danger of imperfection just because homosexual attraction is sincere. We need to get over our personal trepidation and accept this.

We also need to get past the fear that accepting the sincerity of the biological attraction somehow concedes that it is moral. I would never dream of telling a practicing homosexual that they do not genuinely feel attraction for a member of their same sex. Nor would I dream of denying that they love their partners with a romantic love. How presumptuous would I be to do so? Am I God? Can I see into their heart? Who am I to stand in such a holier than thou position and tell them what they are and are not feeling? Yet this is what Christians do every day, and we wonder why we are called “hostile.”

In the end it does not matter. I am more than willing to concede their love is real. The question is not whether their feeling is true (since when is Christianity about discouraging love?). It is about whether certain actions are moral, and a sincere, biologically driven desire to engage in a certain activity does not make it correct. After all, what is morality if not a set of rules that tell us when we should avoid behaviors that we sincerely desire to engage in? If morality only banned activities that nobody wanted to do, there would be no need for morality.

Ultimately, it should make little difference to the Christian whether the homosexual drive is a biological predisposition or a conscious choice. Yet we expend countless efforts telling people that they do not even know what is going on inside their own hearts. Can you imagine anything more offensive than that? What right do we have to complain when people refuse to accept the gospel when we begin by telling them that we know them better than they know themselves?

We preach that homosexuals cannot make good parents. After all, they set a poor example by actively promoting a sinful lifestyle and passing that worldview on to their children. Yet Christians who oppose any drinking of alcohol whatsoever do not form political action groups to oppose adoption by a social drinker. We do not advocate taking away the children of Hindu families because they teach their children idolatry. I would guess that most Christians would find such practices horrid. But we tell homosexuals that they are unfit parents and do not see the double standard that we set.

Love the sinner, hate the sin? When someone hears from us, “You don’t really love your partner and you have no business raising your child” they don’t feel loved. We are attaching the sin to the sinner and hating both. In our zeal to reject the sin, we do not acknowledge how ridiculous some of our tactics have become. Besides, why do we expect a non-Christian to care what the Bible says about his or her behavior anyway? Our priority for them should be to present the gospel and introduce them to Christ. Correcting sin within the church is our priority, but trying to correct it outside the church without the gospel is a futile effort.

This is only one of many examples I could give, but it is the one that appears to have driven Anne Rice away. We hate homosexuals, don’t believe that women are intelligent enough to make their own decisions about their bodies and refuse to let any card-carrying Democrat into the pews. Are these accurate perceptions? They shouldn’t be, and there certainly are solid moral truths underlying some of them that we must learn to respectfully express. But perhaps, just perhaps, we are more responsible for earning these labels than many of us would like to admit.