I affirm GBLTQs civil right to have protection under the law, and I affirm their right to secure the social and political benefits of “marriage” (a social-political construct in the modern state—though what the state does says little about what Christians ought to think). I am not disturbed by the civil guarantees inherent in the SCOTUS decision, though I am concerned (but not worried) about how others might use this decision to advance other agendas (for example, to circumscribe the religious liberty of others). I don't know how all that will play out. It is possible that some might use this decision to marginalize traditional believers or subvert institutions operated by such. So be it.
But I would hope that the nation could treat each other with respect and dignity despite whatever difference.
I have found Miroslav Volf's “soft difference” understanding of the relationship between state (culture) and church helpful in this regard. “Soft” means “gentle and kind” rather than “weak.” [www.pas.rochester.edu]
Our “difference” with any particular aspect of the culture in which disciples of Jesus live (where disciples of Jesus seem out of sync with their surrounding culture) is a “soft” one, that is, we seek to live in a peaceful, loving, kind relationship even though we have different understandings of any specific cultural practice or belief.
“Soft difference” is not about how the culture acts toward the church. That is sometimes hostile and harsh as in the case of 1 Peter and Revelation within the New Testament, or even hostile to Jesus himself in the Gospels. [And we must remember--and confess--that the church has often been harsh and violent toward people within cultures and especially different cultures!] Rather, “soft difference” is how disciples of Jesus respond to culture. We recognize differences (and do not yield our convictions to culture) but we live softly in relation to the culture (kindness, gentleness, love). A wave of some kind of cultural marginalization (even persecution as some are predicting) may come—whether it does or not, our response is a soft one. We neither revolt (as in some revolutionary takeover) nor assimilate (yield our convictions) nor withdraw (hide out and isolate), but we engage softly (with gentle love).
The SCOTUS decision may constitute a fearful “difference” for many where fear, anger, and distrust emerge as the primary emotions. However, given our status as “exiles” or “resident aliens” who live out of an eschatological hope and vision based on a new birth, we do not operate out of fear, hatred, or manipulation. We neither hate nor oppress any social group. Rather, we bear witness with gentleness, kindness, and love. We engage, but we engage in love; we engage softly.
As I teach through 1 Peter in my Sunday morning Bible class, I am reminded that they were called to live in hope, gentleness, love, and reverent awe among the nations. Without doubt, the imperial Roman culture was saturated with non-Christian values, commitments, and practices. These shaped every aspect of that culture—education, entertainment, and civic religion. Their children could not escape that cultural influence—and ours won't escape in our present culture. Yet, Peter, though realistic about the harsh criticism and hostility of that culture, calls believers to a way of life that is saturated with goodness and hope.
I suspect that the loss of the “Christian nation” (which was never Christian, since the church is God's holy nation as a people rebirthed into Israel) has shocked some, generated fear among many, and led to despair for some. We now live in a post-Christian culture, and this is an opportunity for believers to live authentically in the present as a people who bear witness to the future that God wants to bring into the present; that is, to bring heaven to earth. We find ourselves in a situation analogous to the original audience of 1 Peter, which Peter characterized as a fiery trial that will refine the people of God for the sake of authentic witness.
In many ways, we ought to welcome this. Christianity is exploding in China, and declining in the US. Perhaps the clarity of the cultural shift may help us refocus our message on what God has done in Christ. Perhaps Christians in China can focus on cross and community because they are truly “aliens” without the temptation to embrace political agendas. Perhaps we might consider such a focus and leave the political agendas to others. This is not a plea for withdrawal or isolation from culture, but the sort of presence within culture that bears witness to cross and community—including peace and justice—rather than a search for power and control.
Fellow Christians, let us pursue peace with all people, live lives shaped by the cruciformed God (the God who went to the cross for the sake of others), and bear witness through our good works to the coming future that God yearns to share with the creation.