A friend shared with me a few days ago of feeling "between a rock and hard place." That's how it can feel when one seeks to stand for Christ in the midst of a wide array of competing interests in the broader public square, including the Christian portion of that square.
Trying to stand for Christ and the things Christ valued is not easy, even among Christians, because good people have come to different conclusions regarding what is right or best in dealing with the details of day-to-day living and societal interaction.
Take politics for instance. If you want government to be like Jesus and help the poor then people on the right think you're a soft-headed liberal. If you want government to be like Jesus and value human life by limiting abortion then friends on the left think you're a flaming fundamentalist. And those friends can be just as committed to Christ as you.
As our nation approaches the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage we Christians can feel between a rock and a hard place in different ways. We feel it within ourselves. Many of us want to clearly say that the Bible says homosexual behavior is wrong and that history clearly affirms marriage only between a man and woman. But we also want to say to those involved in homosexual behavior and who desire to have a same-sex marriage that we really do love and care for you, that our disagreement with you does not negate our deep love for you.
Those of us who hold this position are feeling marginalized by the broader culture, much as gay people have in the past. We did not always treat gay people well in the past, and some of them are now returning the favor since they have, at least for now, turned the broader culture in their direction.
I use "for now" on purpose. I am not one of those who think every cultural change is good and permanent – they're not. Majority opinion has never been a trustworthy determinant of truth or right. When I'm in the majority I don't like to admit this, but when I'm in the minority it's easier to see. I think of African Americans in the Jim Crow South who for decades, even centuries, knew bigoted white people were clueless about race long before the white folk, at least many of them, recognized and admitted it.
David Brooks said something interesting in a Christianity Today interview the other day. Brooks is a "cultural Jew," the article says, but he tells of speaking recently to a group of evangelical Christians. The group asked him, "as an outsider," to address the "ramps and the walls the evangelical community builds for outsiders."
Brooks responded that "what drives people away the most is a mixture of an intellectual inferiority complex with a moral superiority complex." He said evangelicals are raising their intellectual standards, but they "are not as high as they could be."
Then he noted something that is hard for some of us to face. "Everyone wants to be kind to each other," Brooks said of evangelicals. "But sometimes you have to be a little cruel to disagree, and to disagree sharply and honestly to raise the intellectual standard of the enterprise."
If he is right, how do we disagree sharply and honestly and still convey care and love for those who disagree? It isn't easy. The rock and the hard place are evident.
Part of the answer may be in the other side of Brooks' equation. Maybe we should stop acting so morally superior to those who disagree with us.
On the same sex issue, the truth is that many people involved in same-sex relationships are honest, good, and caring people. It makes no sense for an arrogant, greedy, or thieving person who goes to church to consider himself or herself more moral than a humble, giving, and honest person who is missing the mark on sex.
In other words, like the Apostle Paul said, we all are sinners in need of God's grace. We evangelical Christians should get that better than secular folks, and yet sometimes we come across as morally superior. If that's what we are conveying, then we are not being honest.
Maybe if we stop acting morally superior but argue our points more convincingly we can begin to draw people both to Christ and to truth and righteousness. Let the third chapter of Romans challenge us:
As it is written:
"There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one." …
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law (Romans 3:10-12, 21-28).
The Good News challenges. Grace rules, but grace does not do away with the law of God. We lean on the grace of God, and in so doing we seek to allow God to reshape us and to bend us away from our sin, whether those sins have to do with sexual behavior, financial practices, misuse of power, or the silent sins of hateful attitudes.