Yesterday I talked about absolutes in light of a question I’d been asked that required me to give an absolute response. Today, in part 2, I want to share my thoughts on an absolute statement I encountered over the weekend when I was speaking at a church. I’m not sure that I can give an exact quote, but essentially the individual said something like this: “Some churches are already gay affirming. If that becomes the norm it will be all over. We will be done. I will NEVER agree with gay marriage.” Now because this particular sentiment was expressed in a string of comments he made which was followed by a bit of a firestorm from other participants in this open forum discussion, I wasn’t able to ask him what exactly he meant when he said, “…. It will be all over. We will be done.” But it was clear that his emotion was one of desperation. This man might be right. He might never agree with gay marriage. And this is his prerogative. But the spirit from which he uttered this declaration was troubling to me. It sounded less like a conviction and more like a fearful and angry defense. I’m not saying that this is not a conviction for him. But I’ve often said that “how” we believe what we believe is critically important – it’s not just about “what” we believe. Back in my inner-healing-paradigm days, we would have called a statement like that an inner vow. Within that paradigm of ministry, the understanding is that inner vows will nearly always come back to bite you in the butt. We understood something about giving allegiance to that kind of absolute statement rather than simply resting in the trust that God will lead you in the right way. The hold that this kind of a statement had on someone’s spirit could become a binding and problematic thing – and so we spent a lot of time in prayer breaking the power of these kinds of vows. I remember reading an article after Bishop Gene Robinson was consecrated. Apparently, a Christian woman had asked Gene this question, “If Jesus spoke directly to you and told you that gay relationships were outside of his will, would you obey him?” The article reported that the Bishop quietly said that he would follow and obey Jesus. I can’t help but wonder, if I had asked this individual a similar question, what would his response have been. If I’d asked, “If Jesus came to you and told you that you were mistaken in your convictions about committed same-sex relationships, would you obey him and open your heart to partnered gay people?” When we play the emotional power card with such strong absolute statements, we erase the possibility that we could be wrong. We cease to embody a posture of humility. It doesn’t mean we don’t have strong convictions that we continue to pray into, search Scripture about, and open ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. But we express these convictions in a manner that communicates our recognition of our own limitations and our inability to ever fully apprehend the mysteries of God’s love and grace. I think of the disciple Peter. He was often the first one to blurt out some absolute statement. And sometimes, these were profound statements of faith. And sometimes he got it so badly mistaken that at one point Jesus had to say to him, “Get behind me Satan.” Then later in his life, Peter, deeply humbled by his betrayal and reconciliation with Jesus, is confronted with more ideas and concepts that cut across all of his theological certainties. His vision on the roof and his visit with Cornelius were paradigm busting encounters. And when Peter had to give leadership to the dispute about Gentile believers in Acts 15, he makes this remarkable speech:
“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
The rock on which Christ said he would build his church had come to a place of grace. And as for the church being somehow ruined by gay affirming positions, let us remember the words of our Lord, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matt. 16:18) Grace will build the church. And no matter what kinds of absolute statements we make, Jesus Christ has said that nothing, not even hell itself, will overcome the gathering and reconciling of God’s people.