Thursday, February 27, 2014

Being Christian in a Pluralistic Society Requires Love

We live in a post-modern, many suggest post-Christian world. Without doubt, we live in a secular and pluralistic society, which includes Christians of ALL denominations, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Baha’i, Humanists, Wiccan, and many more I don’t know the name of. For centuries, Christians have been the recipients of legal protection of their way of life from governments of all sorts. But times are changing.

With the growing reality of our secular and pluralistic society, it has become fashionable to declare “Christian persecution” and “intolerance” of our Christian ideals. I can’t speak for everyone, but we must admit that there does exist persecution and intolerance, but is it warranted? Is it government sponsored? Just because a growing number of Americans believe that marriage should be redefined, doesn’t mean Christians are being persecuted. If anything, we are feeling the sting of no longer being the majority moral followers of our nation. I suppose that could “feel” like persecution, but it isn’t really.

Living in a world with other people requires a deeper Christian love than we might need living in a Christian compound.  As Christians we believe that God has given us free will, and with that free will, come consequences. As Saint Paul reminds us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.” (1 Corinthians 6.12) Just because people have the free will to live their life, doesn’t mean their choices will be helpful in their relationship with God.

But I don’t want to write about other people today, I want to write about us, Orthodox Christians. WE are called to use our free will to live according to the commandments of God. WE are called by Christ to a life of holiness dedicated to God. “The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 6.13) But most importantly, WE are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and when we love, we have to allow the same free will that God allows.

Loving others doesn’t mean condoning or endorsing their behavior. It means that we allow them the same opportunity to exercise their free will that God has allowed to us. It also doesn’t mean forcing them to live according to our Christian way of life. The benefit of a so-called Christian society supporting our moral codes hasn’t been about us forcing our way of life upon others. It has been a result of mutual respect for a minority to live in a society based upon foreign moral standards, while remaining privately dedicated to their chosen way of life. And we are slowly becoming a minority.

Sexuality, while possibly the most popular moral shift of our times, is not the only difference in our moral codes, but since it is so popular, I use it as an example. There are many other morals standards which the Orthodox Church frowns upon that are upheld by our society, not the least of which is abortion. While we as Orthodox Christians teach against such behavior choices, we cannot lose sight of the fact, that until WE are forced to behave according to such standards, we are not being persecuted, even though such behaviors are endorsed and sanctioned by the society at large.

So how do we coexist in such an environment? As members of our society, we each have a say in the common moral codes of our society. This is the rich blessing of living in a democratic society. We cast our votes and debate in the public square, but once the votes have been cast, we agree to accept as lawful while not helpful, the decisions which we, in our private lives, would never endorse. This is not selling out. Rather, it is an expression of love to allow free will.

On the topic of same-sex marriage, it might sound like, “No, I don’t agree with same-sex marriage. I know it’s legal, but we don’t believe it is proper, but I can’t stop you for expressing your own free will.” I try to remind faithful Orthodox Christians all the time, “Legal does mean moral.”

But there is another difficulty in our coexistence. As with the recent attempt in Arizona to “protect religious freedom”, many confuse tolerance with acceptance. Part of this problem is a natural result of the western concept that certain sins are worse than others. In Orthodoxy, ALL SIN separates us from God. Whether someone falls to sexual sins, greed, gluttony, etc., ALL SIN is seen by God as against His will. So if we would “do business” with greedy fat people, we should be willing to “do business” with skinny gay people.

Again, Saint Paul has great advice,
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges.” (1 Corinthains 5.9-13)
It isn’t a betrayal of Christian morals to photograph a gay marriage any more than it is to bake a cake for fat people.

Where this get’s a “little murky” might be IF you are in a certain profession in which you are required to PERSONALLY ACT in a way that is against the will of God. This is often the difficulty in medical circles in regard to abortion. So, until an Orthodox Christian Priest is ‘ordered’ to perform a same-sex marriage, the legal status of such marriages is not a matter of persecution.

Will it ever get to this point? I suspect it will. Jesus said,
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15.19)
The day will eventually come when Christians are forced to act against Christ, and the blood of martyrs will once again flow through the streets. It is already happening in other nations. But until it does…remember what Jesus said,

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33)

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