I am a Christian. I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and authoritative for the life of the believer. As far as possible I try to understand the ethics of scripture and apply them to my own life (sometimes better than others). There are real consequences to that decision and impulse. Nowhere is that impulse more problematic for me than the matter of sexual ethics. I am a single, thirty-something male (heterosexual if you most know) living in a culture and society awash with sex. Sex explodes everywhere around me (on my phone, my computer, my TV, my magazines, my books, my music, etc…). Yet as a Christian I believe in some particular boundaries to this act (which I also believe to be a God-ordained and yes, highly pleasureable activity), and I am paying a high price to maintain them within my own domain ( I am the king of my castle, the master of my domain). You might say as a single man I pay a higher price than any of the married Christian men I often hear whining about our current sex-satiated culture.
That said my heart pumps out a variety of feelings about the recent doings of the North Carolina voters. I bleed for my friends and loved ones within the LGBT community; even as empathize with the frustration of my brothers and sisters who use the phrase ” war on marriage.” It all seems a little too surreal. The same people aghast when it is asserted that taxes and regulations are valid are willing to allow that same government into the confines of what Church Father Origen called the most sacred of spaces: the bedroom. The maxim “You can judge my bedroom actions, but stay away from my wallet” seems well strange. It is no wonder that non-Christians think we Christians are a repressed and sex-starved lot.
For me this whole thing boils down to Augustine. Yes, I know, a sex-obsessed man with serious mommy issues is a strange person to bring into this debate (but then again in the graph above I referenced a eunuch). Augustine wrote what for me (and many others) has been the defining document on the relationship of church and state: The City of God.[ed. note- I have not read this work in full but have read parts and many an essay or work discussing the text. If my analysis is off, let me know, please]
In this work he argued that within our world there are two cities: the city of God and the city of Man. The city of God is the community of the church and the city of man exists in the surrounding community. Each community has a set group of members and each community was created for a set course of actions. The city of God exists for moral instruction and to usher the members of larger community into the presence of God. The city of man exists to protect and defend all the members of a given society. Any given society works best when the two cities exist in interdependence, each accomplishing its own goals and each staying out of the way of the other.
This separate but equal arrangement is harder in practice than in theory, but I believe it to be our best understanding and our way forward. Here the church is responsible for the evangelization of the surrounding city, the discipling of its voluntary membership, and the worshiping of God. This is important because moral authority can never be demanded, it can only ever be given. A member of the larger society sees something of value in the church, joins its community, and slowly is reformed in the image of its God. That member offers himself or herself as a willing sacrifice, a free will offering to their Lord, and that Lord honors the sacrifice by moving within that officiant’s life. This is the way of it, the Lord offers Himself and His way making each member of society response-able to answer that call to fellowship. A powerful Lord could demand, could force His creations to follow as a designer might his automated robots; yet our Lord is also a loving Father who desires righteous relationship and not just righteousness.
There are many who have tried to have righteousness outside of relationship, but these groups never end well. When the God-man Jesus Christ walked the earth, there were many such bodies operating within his confines, and two of these groups received comment from him. “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” He warned his followers. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness,” he warned these men. Here were men intend on using every mean available to see that every member of their society toed the moral line they proposed all should follow (and of which they repeatedly failed). No infraction was too small to escape their notice. They were righteous in actions as they saw themselves at war with the pagan degradation of the surrounding Roman society.
Yet here was this self-appointed Messiah eating with tax-collectors, drinking with prostitutes, and celebrating without thought for how it might look to others. Here was your Messiah, a drunkard on a first-name basis with the local hookers, and on the invite list of all the wrong people. Once they grabbed a loose and wayward woman in the middle of her brazen sinfulness, dragged her before this prophet, and demanded that he treat her like God would. He forgave her, and invited her into the community.
Think about if you were that woman whose posse would you rather join. The legal eagles who had passed legislation forbidding her brazen act, and were now demanding she pay the penalty for her slutty ways. Or the soft spoken man who picked her off the ground and offered a graceful entrance into a new community where she would be loved, accepted, and encouraged to grow in grace and stature.
We can make demands up-front, and insist that others who have not come to the same opinions as us live according to our rules, and our standards. We can enforce our beliefs with the sword. We can yell, scream, and shout. We can take the power of the city of man and use it to crush all those not as enlightened as us. We can win the culture battles, and vanquish our foes in the courts of man. All the short-term gains can boost our esteem, and fill our heads; but in the long run all we really will accomplish is the creation of a people determined to one day have our heads.
Or we can stand humbly in our little corner of the street, and say to the hungry ” have some food for your bellies.” And say to the thirsty “have some water for your parched throat.” We can say to the prisoner “let me remove your chains.” We can say to the orphan “find a home with us.” We can say to the widow “here, have a shoulder to cry upon.” We can lift our eyes to the skies and praise our God for his mercy and grace, and we can be purveyors of that mercy and grace within the community. We can become known for our love of all people, and our desire for everyone to find joy and peace. We can own our own lives. We can look to our teachings and apply them ourselves. We can become the agents of change we are looking for. And if we do this, and do it well we will be creating a communal space that attracts, a space that invites, a space that welcomes. People will come from the farthest corners of the world to find the joy and peace we have to offer. And as they join us, they will meet our God, and He will begin the long work of transforming their lives, renewing their minds, and writing his law upon their hearts. Marriages will be saved. Lives renewed. Our community reformed.
Or we can continue to talk of wars. We can continue to make enemies. We can win some battles. We can lose the war. Marriages ruined. Lives destroyed. Our communities desolate.
We can be the good news of great joy in a world of chaos and disorder. Or we can be the agents of chaos adding to the disorder. The choice is ours.