Should Christians keep fighting the “culture wars” surrounding sex or have we already lost the battle?
As the conflict within the larger Christian family, and the Anglican Communion in particular, has heated up, three aspects of the conflict have generated a large share of the unhappiness and division. One aspect has to do with the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Another aspect is the authority of Holy Scripture to speak discipline and order as well as grace and renewal into our broken lives, particularly within the church itself. Out of these first two comes a third aspect, and that is the need, or lack thereof, of having our personal lives reflect the moral and ethical models put forward both in Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Christian church since its founding. Today I would like to touch on this third aspect. Is it actually relevant in a modern world and should a Christian fight for his or her right to visibly exercise their faith in the secular world?
Some Christian writers, bloggers, and would-be spokesmen have suggested that we have lost the sexual battles and need to get over it and move on: lost on the pre-marital sex issue, lost on the multi-divorce-remarriage issue, lost on the homosexual-bisexual-transgender issues, and certainly the homosexual marriage issue as well. The advocates of this position point to the changes both in culture and law that are taking place in Europe and North America, and these advocates seem to take the Anglo-centric view that what Europe and North America do is of course superior to what other continents, nations, cultures and peoples might think, believe or practice. The truth is, until very recently the entire Christian church family agreed on moral standards for individuals, family and marriage, and the battle for the Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage and family is anything but lost on a global basis. While many western denominations are rapidly declining in attendance and vitality, non-western Christian churches are booming.
It may be that we have lost the civil and secular battle on pre-marital sex, odd arrangements on marriage, and acceptance of same-sex practice for the time being, but it does not mean that we have to change church doctrine to get in step with the surrounding world. The churches that maintain the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for us, and accept the authority of Holy Scripture to speak truth and grace into our lives, must continue to hold the historic standards within the church as high as possible. Lowering the standards in an attempt to fill a church will only result in uncommitted attendees and nothing more than an army of the unconvinced and unarmed, who will abandon you and the faith at the first sound of battle. Better to have a smaller, more disciplined group of believers who are equipped with the full Gospel and ready to march through the fires of hell to rescue and redeem lost souls.
Christian brothers and sisters are being persecuted for their faith now at an alarming rate; in many parts of the world they are losing their lives, and in the West, they are losing their church buildings, their financial reserves, and sometimes their businesses and professions. Yet where Christians are being martyred, their lives are planting seeds that burst forth many fold. I remember long ago when Episcopalians were assured that their theological “progress” would mean a massive influx of people. They are still waiting. Unfortunately, it seems like the Church of England, Anglican Church of Wales, Anglican Church of Scotland, Anglican Church of Ireland, Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and many liberal Presbyterian and Methodist Churches to mention only a partial list are under the same delusion.
Contrasted to this is the faithfulness and growth of the Anglican Church in North America, the new Lutheran Church in North America, and a number of new expressions of Presbyterism. The faithfulness and explosive growth of Anglican churches in Africa means the center of Anglican identity is rapidly moving from Europe to Africa. It will probably require the placing of orthodox Christian missionaries into the lapsed European countries in order to restore solid Christian faith. Even in areas that have been solid in their Catholic faith, the scandal of sexual abuse of young boys and girls has badly damaged the witness of the Catholic Church, and it remains to be seen if steps to address this will be adequate. It may be that other Christian bodies will have to carry the torch in some of these areas until enough healing has taken place.
Although there exists an ongoing tension between many of our Western nations and Russia, dating back to the days of the Cold War and the former U.S.S.R, the Russian Orthodox Church, under tremendous persecution for so long, nevertheless has maintained their faith and order and now is able to grow and begin a recovery. Months ago, Metropolitan Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, spoke in Kazan Cathedral on Red Square, warning of following the Western nations in formalizing sin by codifying it in the laws of a nation. See this VirtueOnline article about the Patriarch’s sermon.
The internal challenge for orthodox Christians everywhere is to view the sinner, homosexual or otherwise, not as a person to be destroyed or ridiculed, but as a lost soul that God wants to redeem and recover. The challenge is to live our own lives with such authenticity and conviction, with such grace and compassion that our words, our faith and our life are all synergistically in unison.
Hold fast to the faith that was first given to you, and may our Lord give you the strength and courage to live it out with conviction.
The Rt. Rev. David C. Anderson is President and Chairman of the Board of the American Anglican Council.