Does God Want Us to Be Astronauts?
There was a story in the news last week of a church in Tennessee that forced out of its fellowship a family who had “supported” their police officer daughter's lawsuit against the city seeking to get insurance coverage and survivor benefits for her “wife” (they had been married in Maryland). Because her parents attended the legal proceedings with their lesbian daughter, that was seen as “supporting” their daughters sinful lifestyle. The family was given the choice repenting publicly of the sin, leaving the church or being disfellowshipped. I realize that the secular press often is less than accurate when dealing with religious issues, but this story was reported in Christian Chronicle. I also realize that this must have been a very hard thing for everyone involved— the family, the church elders and the church itself. Our postmodern, post-Christian world will make these kinds of cases more common and these kinds of decisions more difficult. We want to be loyal to God, we want to love other people, and we want have a witness to the world. Sometimes it very difficult to do all these things at the same time.
We live in a diverse, multicultural world that doesn't accept the Bible either as God's word or as moral authority for our lives. What that means is that there are any number of things that are legal in our country but immoral for Christians. We expect that to be the case, don't we? In the Bible, all sexual activity outside marriage (premarital and extramarital) is sinful. Divorce for any reason other than the sexual unfaithfulness of one's spouse is called "adultery" by Jesus Himself. Yet, there is no movement among Christians (at least none that I know about) to make premarital sex, adultery or divorce on grounds other than adultery illegal. Why not? These things are wrong if you accept the Bible, right? But then not everyone accepts the Bible, many who do accept it have wrong-headed notions about what it means ("wrong-headed" in this context means, of course, different from what I think it means).
So is homosexuality really that different? Suppose for the sake of argument that I believe that homosexual practice is sinful and that thus homosexual marriage is outside God’s desire for us. (That should be easy to imagine; it's what I believe). Does that mean I must also believe that homosexual marriage has to be illegal? Must I also believe that homosexual couples must therefore be denied legal rights like survivor benefits or insurance coverage? And must anyone who advocates survivor benefits or insurance coverage for gay couples be seen as supporting a sinful lifestyle and kicked out of the church? Someone might suggest, “But homosexual marriage is an affront and a threat to marriage as God intended it.” But cohabitation without marriage and divorce for reasons other than adultery are a much bigger threats and affronts to marriage, but no one is disfellowshipped because they hang around family members who happen to be in those situations. And no one demands that they be illegal!
Just because something is sinful doesn't mean it must be illegal. Christians are called to a higher standard than the world, but we are not called to either judge the world or disassociate ourselves from the people in it (1 Cor 5:9-12). Paul says here that we'd have to leave the world (i.e. become astronauts) to totally remove ourselves from sinful people and their sinful choices. But it is before those people and this world that we are called to shine God’s light. If you start kicking people out of church because they hang around sinful people, the first person who will have to go is Jesus!