Certain historic Christian moral convictions have become increasingly unpopular in recent years. In some places, traditional views on various subjects are thought not only to be wrongheaded but bigoted and unloving.
But Christians need to be aware that sometimes we are perceived as bigoted and unloving, not because we are holding fast to God’s truth that people disagree with, but because we are bigoted and unloving.
One way we do this is by speaking against the evils of “our culture” as though our culture has exclusive rights to evil. I’ve heard Christians talk about homosexuality, abortion, addiction, transgenderism, divorce, and mental health problems as though real Christians don’t deal with these things. I have talked this way myself.
It’s easy for Christians to talk this way to each other. We might not personally know any Christians who deal with these things, so we assume these problems only exist out in the world. Once we’ve assigned all the problems to other people, it makes us all feel like we’ve got it together. It makes us the heroes in the story, the valiant culture-warriors who are going to save this nation from itself.
This would be a very satisfying exercise if Christians did not struggle with these sins themselves. But of course we do. There are women in our congregations who have had abortions. There are kids who are pretty sure that they’re gay and they have no idea what to do. There are married couples who are struggling in their marriages who feel like church is the least safe place to talk about it. And on and on and on.
When they hear their sins and problems assigned only to the most scurrilous people outside of the fold, they understand that they are beyond the pale. They should have shed these issues upon entering the church. Now that they are here, and still struggling, where will they go? They experience their church as a very unloving place.
People outside of the church who overhear these conversations will assume that we come to stand in judgment of the rest of the world because we think we are so much better than everyone else. They will think we are bigoted, because we are bigoted. They will mostly likely politely decline our offer of salvation.
This style of conversation hurts people outside the church, and struggling people within it. It also damages the people participating in it who don’t struggle with the particular sin they are assigning to the culture. It is easy to become self-righteous and prideful while telling ourselves that, after all, we are only upholding Christian moral convictions. We are only speaking the truth. We are only telling people the bad news so that they can hear the good news.
And once we get invested in this “us vs. them” mindset, we need to make sure that the distinction is preserved at all costs. “They” must be evil sinners, and “we” must be righteous believers for the church to have any purpose at all. To maintain this fiction, we continue blaming certain categories of sin on the world, and we ignore other categories altogether. Specifically, we fail to talk about serious sins that are relatively common in the church.
Some Christian moral convictions that I have never heard about in church are that husbands shouldn’t abuse their wives and children should not be sexually abused. That seems so obvious, right? Morality 101; this is stuff for amateurs. But domestic abuse is a major problem in the church, and child sex abuse scandals have rocked the Catholic church and many Protestant churches. We still don’t talk about it. Worse, we cover things up, and we say that we do it so that our Christian witness might not be tarnished.
This is utterly backwards. We make the gospel about our own righteousness, when that was never what it was supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about grace, for all of us.
Because of that, the church should be the safest place on earth for us to talk about our problems and our sins. We all know that we are terribly broken, and we all know that we are immeasurably loved. Our words should grow out of these convictions no matter whom we are talking to.
Of course our culture needs to hear God’s truth, but the greatest Truth is Christ, who came to save sinful people. As Christians we must call sin “sin,” but always with the knowledge that we are sinners saved by grace who are still sinning yet. This knowledge should cause us to reach out to our neighbors with love and humility, that they too might take refuge in the mercy of God.
People might still think our views are bigoted and unloving. That’s ok. It’s not our job to convince everyone that we’re right. We have the much better (and harder) job of loving as we have been loved.