We all feel the problem, don’t we?
However you ended up here, you’re talking about same-sex marriage. And you’re feeling pinned.
You really want to say something about God’s grace in Jesus. But you’re struggling to be heard as anything but a moralistic, judgemental bigot.
Maybe — keeping Romans 1.18ff in mind — you’re trying to explain that not just homosexual sin but all sin can be traced back to idolatry.
Perhaps you’ve mentioned something about not expecting people who don’t trust Jesus to buy into Christian morality (a little uncomfortably given your convictions about Jesus being Lord of all and hence of his vision for life applying to all).
But nothing seems to be getting through.
So how can we speak a word of grace into the same-sex marriage debate?
In his brilliant little paper on ‘Preaching In A Secular Culture’ (available at Redeemer City to City), Tim Keller isolates four keys for speaking the good news of Jesus in a secular culture — and having it actually heard as good news:
- <strongSpeak to Christians and non-Christians at the same time. This isn’t as impossible as it sounds — the good news about Jesus is the key not only to becoming a Christian but also to growing as one.
- Proclaim grace not moralism. Sounds obvious, right? But incredibly hard to do in practice.
- Show that it’s always about Christ. Again – Duh. And, again, very difficult to do without forcing the connection (e.g., by allegory).
- Aim for the heart (or the imagination) not simply the emotions or the mind.
I’d love to unpack this in detail. But I’ll limit myself to picking out one point of particular relevance for Christian interventions the same-sex marriage debate. Namely, how do we pull off Point 2 — speaking a word of grace rather than moralistic condemnation?
The key, Keller suggests, is to work hard to “show how the person and work of Jesus Christ bears on the subject” so people can hear us proclaiming good news not simply (what we consider to be) good advice.
Surely, Christian talk about sin — all sin not just homosexual sin — must take its cue from the way Jesus extended unconditional acceptance to sinners (“Neither do I condemn you” was his word to the woman caught in adultery in John 8) before making demands or calling for transformation (“Go and leave your life of sin”).
It’s worth asking ourselves the question: Do our interventions in the same-sex marriage debate have the savour of Jesus to them?
I suspect we won’t get very far until we start owning up to our sin and failures in this regard. Showing how the way Christ deals with sinners is good news — which, nevertheless, demands change and transformation — for all of us.