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Same-Sex Marriage, Culture Wars and the Next Step for the Church

The Moral Majority of the 1980s found its genesis in such sentiments and accordingly formed a “top down” strategy for cultural change. If we could only have Christians in the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court—or populating other leadership elites—then morality would be enacted and faith would once again find the fertile soil needed to establish its footing in individual lives.

The moral majority “won” through the election of Ronald Reagan as president, and his subsequent Supreme Court appointments throughout the 1980s brought great anticipation for substantive change.

Yet there was little real change to mark as a result.

Even the prime target—the striking down of the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion—remains the law of the land to this day. Further, the “culture wars” of the 1980s and 1990s are now widely viewed as one of the more distasteful episodes in recent memory, and many younger evangelicals want nothing to do with what was often its caustic, abrasive and unloving approach toward those apart from Christ.

So the effort to recapture the nation failed as a strategy and alienated a younger generation.

As one who was a college student in the early ’80s, I stand with that alienation. I am deeply sympathetic to those who give a resounding “no” to Christians joining any kind of “culture war” again. The idea is that it is ineffectual and offensive to those we are trying to reach.

But I also believe that in so doing, we may be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

I have read Christian blogger after Christian blogger (yes, most under 40) jump on the anti-culture war bandwagon over North Carolina passing its amendment against same-sex marriage, as well as outspokenly decry anyone who would, well, outspokenly decry President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage. Yes, it’s all in the spirit of denouncing the failure of the Moral Majority of the ’80s and the ongoing alienation of the homosexual community.

But may I offer four rejoinders?

1. It is the responsibility of Christ followers to be salt and light in a fallen world, and this includes politics. We should use our freedom to vote in any way possible to bring the Kingdom of God to greater reality. And yes, the Kingdom of God includes the biblical understandings of marriage and family.

This is not about attempting to impose things through power, but influence. There is a difference. In Jesus’ day, salt was one of the most useful and important elements you could possess, but not for the purpose of adding flavor to food. The main use of salt was as a preservative to keep food from rotting. Without refrigerators or freezers, canned goods or packaging, salt was used to keep food from spoiling. If you had a piece of meat that you couldn’t eat right away, you would take some salt and rub it into the meat, which would prevent the meat from going bad. As John Stott wrote,

The notion is not that the world is tasteless and that Christians can make it less insipid…but that it is putrefying. It cannot stop itself from going bad. Only salt introduced from outside can do this. The church…is set in the world…as salt to arrest—or at least to hinder—the process of social decay….God intends the most powerful of all restraints within sinful society to be His own redeemed, regenerate and righteous people.

Stott continued by noting the obvious—namely, that this influence is conditional. Meaning that for salt to be effective, it must retain its ‘saltness.’ “For effectiveness, the Christian must retain his Christlikeness, as salt must retain its saltness,” Stott observes. “The influence of Christians in and on society depends on their being distinct, not identical.” Even further, this difference must be applied to what is, in fact, decaying. Unless the salt penetrates the culture, the decay cannot be arrested.

2. It is one thing to denounce “culture wars” in the name of the failure of the Moral Majority of 30 years ago; it is another to abdicate our responsibility to be salt and light on today’s contemporary moral issues. Yes, social justice matters, but so does moral order. Lovelessness toward anyone, including homosexuals, must be repented from (as I have written about—see below), but that does not mean we should not continue to speak out on sexual ethics. As Martin Luther is reported to have proclaimed,

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle front besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

We can have an honest debate about whether amendments such as the one North Carolina approved are beneficial or unnecessary, but the discussion itself is pivotal.

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.