I have been (re) reading Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, the central idea of which is that the church has gone the way of the world in dealing with people who are different; with judgement and disdain rather than grace. For a book from 1997, it does not by any means feel dated, somehow remaining current not least for the issues it tackles; issued which defined the late Nineties but still continue to define our current epoch than anything else – homosexuality and the moral failings of people in leadership, temporal and spiritual.
Only a few short weeks – barely a month – separates us from the landmark decision made by the US Supreme Court in ruling that same sex couples can marry nationwide. The 5-4 decision was perhaps indicative of how closely fought the battle was – each of the dissenting judges wrote an opinion. Christian America has not taken the ‘affront’ lying down with a range of responses from declaring the decision the final sin that will bring an apocalytic judgement on America to a few more nuanced – and blatantly fence-sitting responses from the likes of Brian Houston and TD Jakes amongst others.
There are no simple solutions or answers to the conundrum the church faces. On the one hand, gay activists have become a lot more militant, keen to take on the supposedly disciminatory message of the traditional evangelical position of an active homosexual lifestyle as being sinful. The church has often had to respond from a defensive position, one in which it has been forced to attempt to distance itself from the discriminatory labels activitist throw about. Others more biblically knowledgeable and aware than I am have widely differing positions on the subject, but in my lay man’s head I cannot think of any context in which Romans 1: 21-26 is not a damning indictment of the homosexual lifestyle, as a punishment for turning away from God. The science, on the other hand, suggests – not quite conclusively perhaps – that nature, and genetics, play a part in sexual orientation. If that is true, then roundly vilifying LGBTQ folk is akin to racism, an equivalence quite a number of activists for gay rights have often made.
One of the more emotive chapters in Yancey’s book is the one in which he talks about his friend Mel White, and the fall out of his coming out. In the space of a short time, he went from being a celebrated evangelical icon to being a pariah. That his coming out meant the end of a long term marriage in which children were involved can’t have helped, but the vast majority of people he had been associated with – he ghost wrote for a number of high profile evangelicals – ended up shunning him, and distancing themselves from him.
The model of Grace Yancey espouses is one in which although we accept a difference in opinion and theology, rather than roundly treating others with disdain and responding with defensiveness, or even going on the attack, we treat them graciously, as people carrying the Imago Dei first and foremost and thus deserving of love and respect rather than as adversaries primarily.There are no guarantees the battle will be won by Grace – at least it will guarantee that we get the chance to speak and be listened to.
We, like the best and the worst of the earth, are sinners saved by Grace. Unless we never forget that, we will be sucked into the trap of Gracelessness.
Since I originally wrote this, I have since read Walter Kirn’s excellent essay on Mormonism (Confessions of an ex-Mormon in which from his perspective as an ex-Mormon he somehow hits the nail on the head on what church is perhaps is (or should be) really about:
God doesn’t work in mysterious ways at all, but by enlisting assistants on the ground. Sometimes the stories don’t work, or they stop working. Forget about them; find others. Revise. Refocus. A church is the people in it, and their errors. The errors they make while striving to get things right.
Well said, Walter!!!