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.

Comments

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  • Matthew Proctor
    Dr. Hicks, I am very appreciative for this well articulated and thoughtful post. The "soft difference" is indeed a Christ like approach. I have also found great insight into the words of Fr. Neuhaus, "where orthodoxy is optional it sooner or later will be proscribed." I find this pithy saying to be helpful as I wrestle with the idea of a "soft approach". What does a "soft approach" look like where the most concerned and loving Christian proclaims in the Public Square that the institution of marriage should be between a man and a woman and is labeled a bigot for it?
    There are solid and robust conversations that could be had over this issue because there are many good points for both sides of this issue. Does a "soft approach" in your opinion mean that we should find ways to have these conversations in the most respectful and loving fashion? Thankful for your work.
  • Charles Stelding
    Today I just finished reading James V. Brownson's "Bible, Gender, Sexuality" (http://www.amazon.com/Bible-Gender-Sexuality-Reframing-Relationships/dp/0802868630).


    The book is written in a very clear and concise manner which takes the view that same-sex marriage is biblical. I know this will shock some reading this, but Brownson is a conservative Bible-believing author who believes in the authority of Scripture.


    I've learned quite a bit while reading his explanation about how biblical hermeneutics works with this topic. I'm not selling the book, but it will help the church greatly if ministers, elders and other church leaders would at least consider Brownson's approach.
  • Darryl Willis
    Thank you, John Mark. Well written and a very welcome voice of wisdom during a time when so many want to demand their "rights" and scream for a return to something that never really existed in the first place.
  • David James
    Thanks for your thoughtful response to this decision that has left so many Christians full of indignation and what often seems to be a combination of fear and anger. I've often been troubled when I hear Christians make bitter and hateful statements toward a political party(or individuals in that party) with whom they disagree and your comments touch on some of those concerns.

    I especially like your summary of Miroslav Volf's description of 'soft difference'. We would do well to remember this as we engage with those with whom we disagree. As you said, let us engage softly, with gentle love.