by Matthew Raley
As gay marriage becomes the law of the land, American
Christians may rediscover how to defy mainstream culture without malice.
For most of our history, we thought of ourselves as
mainstream Americans. Churches had a well-defined role in civic life. We
associated easily with most institutions. Political and artistic leaders felt
obliged to reflect our language and principles.
But this was a dangerous illusion. It stiffened us with
entitlement. It made us jealous for our social position. We imagined that we could
avoid becoming peaceable outsiders.
We thought that we’d be able to follow Christ without having
to say, as Peter did, “We must obey God rather than men.” We would never have
to choose between employment and conscience, as English Puritans did. We would
never have to face the scorn of our peers as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did when he became
We thought we could be disciples without cost.
As our illusion is being smashed, Christians often spit
malice at others, as if it were unjust to lose a bit of worldly welfare for
Christ. Malice is not even a substitute for wit, much less for the Holy Spirit.
We should recognize that marriage is only part of a deeper
disagreement. Do we set the terms for our lives or does God? Many say that we
determine identity, relationships, sexuality, the beginning and the end of life
for ourselves. Christians reply that God determines all those things. The very
depth of the divide should soften our hearts.
In the permanent adolescence of identity politics, activists
are reducing this disagreement to hatred. For years, I’ve defied right-wing
populists stoking up malice in churches. Activists on the left who charge
bigotry won’t find me shaking in my shoes. Americans understand that dissent is
different from hatred.
So here’s my position as a pastor on gay marriage: I won’t participate
in it. I will continue to teach and apply the same view of marriage I’ve always
held—one man with one woman. No court, threat, lawsuit, fine, or tweet will change
my views. I do not hate anyone who disagrees with me. Disagreement is part of
life in our big country.
But conformity is not.