No issue flummoxes and frustrates evangelicals in today’s culture wars more than that of homosexuality.
It seems to many Christians a no-win issue. If we speak about the issue in any way, the media attempts to marginalize us (see “Fil-A, Chick”). If we stay on the sidelines, it feels like we are sitting silent on the Titanic of traditional marriage as it sinks in the sea of cultural chaos.
A great example of this Catch-22 faced by evangelicals was seen several months ago in the controversy surrounding professional football player Michael Sam. Sam, a star University of Missouri defensive end and open homosexual, was selected by the St. Louis Rams back in the April 2014 NFL draft. He subsequently was cut by the Rams, but in recent days has been signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. Over the past few months, the media has continued to follow and celebrate Sam, who has become the first openly gay athlete in professional football.
Looking back to the April draft, I remember observing the predictable national and social media maelstrom with interest. On one side, you had rousing celebration of Sam as a “Jackie Robinson-style” forerunner by the popular media; on the other side, you had ill-timed and unwise and untactful Twitter critiques from some so-called conservatives, even some “Christians.”
In the midst of this type of rhetorical crossfire, most evangelicals found themselves in the uncomfortable middle. Most of us realize that salt and light are not sprinkled and shone best via social media. For example, some Twitterers called Sam’s actions—such as his televised kiss of his boyfriend after being selected by the Rams—“‘OMG’ horrible.” We evangelicals should recognize such expressions as unhelpful and hurtful, both to the cause of Christ and to the individual. But at the same time, we grieve when a practice that is clearly demarked as sinful in Scripture is given hearty approval.
I found myself at the time pondering—as an evangelical father, as a Bible professor, as an elder in a local church—how to navigate these chaotic cultural waters. As evangelical Christians and as ones convinced of the biblical plan and theological mandate of traditional marriage, what should we say, think, and do, in this world where our views are disregarded and impugned as antiquated and intolerant?
I think we first need to realize that the current culture is the present (but perhaps not irreparable) reality. Reasoned disapproval can and perhaps should be expressed in the right circles and circumstances. But we also need to realize that homosexual behavior is only going to become more public, more prevalent, and more praised. And most anything we say publically against homosexuality will be misinterpreted, misunderstood, and mischaracterized.
I wonder, then, as evangelicals, if we might take some lessons from the pro-life movement. Early in the pro-life movement, many tried to argue against choice and the pro-abortion arguments. Though these arguments were correct and many times biblically grounded, this strategy of negativity did little to impact the direction of the debate—principally because of the shifts in culture and the movement away from biblical authority.
However, in recent years, the pro-life strategy shifted from arguing “against” abortion and to arguing “for” life. Ultrasounds, pro-life crisis-pregnancy centers, and science itself seems to be winning the day for the pro-life argument. Studies have shown that Millennials are much more likely to support life than any other cultural issue.
In no way should we shy away from calling homosexuality what it is, but at the same time, I wonder if a positive and “grassroots” strategy might prove more effective—especially among Millennial Christians, who seem to be moving further away from biblical marriage. In other words, instead of focusing public efforts on arguing against homosexuality, constructively promote “for” biblical marriage.
So, for example, evangelical preachers should celebrate the beauty of the biblical metaphor of marriage, as rightfully patterned after the relationship of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). In this way, we should show that marriage is at root a profoundly “Gospel” issue. We should also commend the original creation-vision for marriage as demonstrated in Genesis 2. Indeed, is this not what Jesus did when faced with unbiblical views of marriage in His day (Matthew 19:1-12)?
Church leaders should demonstrate healthy marriages in their own lives, purposefully inviting especially younger Christians into their homes to witness their examples. Christian parents should teach and model the principles of biblical manhood and womanhood, as well as God’s purposes for marriage, to their children. Truly, discipleship on the church and family level must include the issues of marriage and sexuality.
Social media, when used, should trumpet the virtues of biblical marriage—edifying, rather than tearing down. We should be known by our love—for one another and for the outcast. And perhaps most importantly, we should pray that the light of the Gospel and of the Gospel-centered vision of marriage might penetrate the cultural fog surrounding this issue.
Of course, no easy answers exist. And we should be prepared to be maligned by many, even if we do attempt a more constructive approach. Yet, if it is clear we are attempting to maintain an unhelpful strategy, maybe we need to look at changing. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.”
A native of Austell, Ga., Bryan Cribb came to Anderson University following a five-year tenure at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga. Dr. Cribb holds a BA in political science and a BS in mathematics from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. After being called into the ministry, he received his master of divinity in biblical and theological studies and his doctor of philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His primary emphasis in PhD work was Old Testament theology, with minor areas of study in New Testament theology and Old Testament languages.
Dr. Cribb is married to Elizabeth, and they have three sons—Daniel Luther, Josiah John, and Nathanael Bryan. Elizabeth is an RN and a stay-at-home mom, who also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary.