Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Home Fires That Burn

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
—Malachi 4:5-6

If life were a movie, Baltimore wouldn't be crumbling under the angered fists of protesters, gangs, and the desperate poor. This scene has already been played out—in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Los Angeles, and in a dozen other places across the home of the free—so it makes for a poor storyline to see it again. But here it is. And once more, as if on cue, a cry for justice has turned into a cry for blood, and the only thing being wrought is more injustice.

I believe there is a tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy at work in all the looting and burning. The shouts of "Black lives matter!"—true though the sentiment might be—masks a deeper cry: "I matter!" And though the current protest finds its lifeblood in the African-American story, this longing is not unique to any one race or city. It is the longing of every human heart for home. But "home" is receiving the full brunt of the fury. By attacking their own city, the rioters are, in essence, agreeing with the very injustice they came to battle. Every shattered window and torched convenience store loudly proclaims that the folks who live in this neighborhood actually don't matter after all, that home is just an illusion.

Every night when I come home from work, I make sure to give my son lots of hugs. I tell him, "I love you," more than once, though he cannot yet understand my words. I build a tower out of fabric blocks that his mother made for him, and I cheer when he crawls across the room to knock them down. Laurin and I pray for our sweet boy before placing him in his crib for the night. He knows "Thank You, Jesus," and he smiles, because we show him those words in sign language at every meal and every nap.

More than anything, I want my son to know that he matters to me and to our heavenly Father. I want him to know he has a home here in this world, and when this world is over, if he wants it, a home with Jesus.

There is something broken in Maryland—and all across this world—something that cannot be repaired by police sensitivity training, neighborhood watches, or social programs. Nothing can replace the family—a mom, a dad, and their children. Everyone needs a home—a mom and dad to tell us we matter, to speak deep into the recesses of our hearts in the unique ways that only a mom and dad can. 

I wonder how many acts of senseless violence might be left undone if each angry face knew he mattered, not only to his mama, but to his dad too—and also to his Maker. Could it be that what's spilling out into the streets began years ago with hugs that weren't given, "I love you"s that went unsaid, and prayers that were never prayed? I know a bit of what it's like to grow up that way—and my heart aches for anyone who longs for home.

Today, just 40 miles from Baltimore, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that may very well change our nation's legal definition of marriage. If the highest court in the land should decide to make gay marriage legal in all 50 states, they will condemn millions of children to the same fate as many of those young men and women in Baltimore: a home that will never really be home because it lacks the love of either a mother or a father.

Those who support gay marriage want us to believe that love is all that matters—that a dad (or a mom) isn't necessary as long as there's love. But that's just not true. Don't take it from me. Take it from Heather Barwick. In her recent letter to the gay community, Heather writes about her experience growing up with two mommies and the pain that it caused her:

Gay marriage doesn't just redefine marriage, but also parenting. It promotes and normalizes a family structure that necessarily denies us something precious and foundational. It denies us something we need and long for, while at the same time tells us that we don't need what we naturally crave. That we will be okay. But we're not. We're hurting.

If our nation continues down this path, the meaning of family will not really be changed. Only God can define marriage, and therefore the family. But we will be doing the cultural equivalent of looting and rioting—setting fire to our own homes and pretending that what we're doing is somehow noble.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Christian Love in an Age of Gay Wedding Cakes

At first, I found it hard to believe that the battle for religious freedom in America was being waged over wedding cakes and floral arrangements. But then, as I really thought about it, it began to make sense. Wedding days are epic—for everyone involved. This year, Laurin and I will celebrate our second anniversary, and as I look back on our wedding day, I think of it as the day we began our family, as the day that my bride and I stood before our heavenly Father and most everyone we know to declare our love and commitment to one another. It was
a big deal, and the day's memory will live on forever in my mind. As such, the details—including the cake and the flowers—are important.

Last week, Jessica Kantrowitz wrote a blog post where she applied Jesus' commandment about going the extra mile in Matthew 5:41 to the Christian baker's dilemma with gay weddings. The result was a popular meme that rewords Jesus' command: "If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two." Kantrowitz argued that since the Romans were despised by the Jewish people of Jesus' day and that Jesus' teaching applied specifically to Jews who were forced into service by Roman soldiers, we ought to take the same tack with gay couples who come to us for wedding cakes. 

True enough, the Romans were idolators and were an occupying force oppressing the Jews in the Holy Land. So Jesus' command is radical. He's giving a real-world example of non-retaliation and love for enemies. And that's the first place where Kantrowitz' comparison falls apart for me: Whoever said gay couples were Christians' enemies? 

I'm sure there are Christian folks out there who view gay men and women as the enemy. But even those who do must admit that Jesus was pretty clear about what to do with our enemies: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). Jesus is clear: Whether we consider someone a friend, a stranger, or an outright enemy, we are to love them. So the only question we should be asking ourselves when it comes to these gay wedding cakes is this: How would Jesus have me love these folks?

Many have answered this question by saying Christians ought to bake the cake. Kantrowitz goes further and insists we ought to bake two cakes. But is helping our gay neighbors celebrate their wedding days via pastry and confection really the best way to love them? For a few very important reasons, I think not.

As a Christian who believes that homosexual activity is sinful, I don't want to be counted among those endorsing it. That's not to say that I want Constitutional rights stripped from my gay friends and neighbors (though I don't believe that gay "marriage" is one of those rights), nor do I want them to be discriminated against in normal, everyday commerce. Let me be clear: If a gay man or woman comes into a bakery and wants to buy a cupcake, the baker—Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or other—should let them buy as many as they want. But when it comes to crafting a special wedding cake and celebrating a monumental event like a wedding, no one should be coerced.

Wedding cakes and floral arrangements are not normal, everyday commerce. They are important contributions to what is intended to be the most special day of a couple's life together. They are, in and of themselves, celebrations of the couple and their relationship. And if a Christian baker or florist is compelled to participate, that Christian is denied the right to submit to his or her conscience—something that every human being should be able to do. Martin Luther said it well when he stood before the Diet of Worms in 1521 and was commanded to recant of his gospel teaching:

[M]y conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.

Luther was right. It is not safe or right for a Christian—when convinced by the Word of God—to go against his or her conscience. We will answer to God one day for every decision we make and every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:10). What more important religious right could there be, then, but the right to yield to one's own conscience?

When it comes to love for our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors, I would like to be reckless and lavish—just as God is with every one of us—but because this is such an important issue, we must think Christianly about what it means to love in this situation. If we believe that sin is deadly—that there is a coming judgment when those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be lost forever—then how could it ever be loving to celebrate and help facilitate the sealing of a relationship that God has said leads only to death?

I know that may sound harsh, but I am writing to those who are convinced that the Bible is the Word of God and that sin is as weighty a matter as God says it is. No, homosexual sin is not heavier than other types, but because it too often manifests itself in a person's identity and, now, in a couple's lifelong commitment, it is not a small thing to be trifled with. Therefore, the most loving thing a Christian baker or florist can do is to stand aside. The gay couple may not understand. They may even become angry and offended in the moment. But there is power in the testimony of someone so in love with Jesus that they cannot yield to pressure from other people. It is not loving to celebrate an adulterer's philandering or a thief's latest score. And it is not loving to celebrate a gay couple's decision to live permanently in unrepentant sin.

Love is not merely doing the seemingly nice thing. If it were, Jesus would have never spoken harsh words to the Pharisees of His day, He would have left those money changer's tables upright, and He never would have offended people by telling them who He was: the Son of God. If Jesus had "loved" the world in that way, they would never have crucified Him. And we'd all be without hope.