Over the past two weeks there have been a lot of excellent articles in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage. I have benefitted from many of the insights and reflections offered and am thankful to those who have written them. On the other hand, I must confess that I have become weary of the response of many Christians bemoaning the “hate” of the Christian community toward the gay community and even apologizing for our behavior. I have no doubt that there are some “haters” out there and that they deserve condemnation, but I have not read or experienced any of them and they certainly are not the majority voice. It seems to me that many Christians have trouble distinguishing between a firmly stated opinion and hate and must come to understand that it is possible to have an opinion and disagree with people, even strongly at times, and yet still love and care for them. As an example, I work at a Christian high school where I teach theology along side a Baptist pastor. I am a Presbyterian (PCA) and therefore we have opposing views on the issue of baptism. I always enjoy watching the expressions on the faces of my students when I tell them that I think my colleague is wrong about baptism. Their eyes get huge and their jaws go slack in disbelief over the fact that I would say that I think he is wrong. (some of you may right now be troubled by my statement or feel offended.) But, what else am I supposed to say? Either he is wrong, I am wrong, or we are both wrong and I obviously think that I am right. At the same time, I recognize that my Baptist colleague thinks that he is right and by necessary consequence I am wrong and I am not offended. It is just the nature of logic and truth. And so I use the opportunity to discuss with them the fact that saying we think someone is wrong is not necessarily a hateful or arrogant thing. It is in fact a necessary thing if we believe in truth.
The issue then is not whether we should say that those with whom we disagree are wrong, but rather how we deal with those we believe are wrong. It is certainly possible to be arrogant and hateful about our beliefs and some are, but we, on the other hand, are commanded to disagree with respect and humility always being willing to hear the opposing position and be shown where we are wrong if in fact we are. We are also called to make distinctions regarding the importance and priority of particular truth claims. My disagreement with his position on baptism, for example, does not rise to a level that demands I not call him my brother in Christ. He is a wonderful Christian brother who I love working with and in whose church I would gladly worship with him. Our disagreements with fellow Christians must not be blown out of proportion but be handled in a fraternal mode which does not break the unity that Christ demands of his church or with our non believing acquaintances in a neighborly mode that living in a pluralistic society demands. Unfortunately, We have all known people who make mole hills into mountains and who are not edifying people to be around. This is certainly to be avoided, but it is not to say however, that no disagreement can rise to a level that demands a break of fraternal relations. Were a professing Christian to deny the deity of Christ or His resurrection, I would not only think that he was wrong, but I would have to insist that he is not a Christian brother. This would not be hate, but fact, and yet even that statement can and must be made with humility and love. Similarly, the issues of abortion and the sanctity of marriage are societal issues today that I believe demand a dogged lack of compromise even while we hold out the good news of the gospel of forgiveness to those who disagree with us.
The necessity of making and defending truth claims is one that has fallen out of favor today and that makes many Post-Modern evangelicals and secularists uncomfortable. This discomfort has unfortunately worked to stifle the church’s proclamation of truth in our culture making us a saltless witness and a dim reflection of the light of Christ. We must therefore, learn to make the necessary distinctions between assertions of truth and expressions of hate. We must learn to state what we believe to be true while reaching out in love to those we disagree with. And finally we must learn to distinguish those issues that we can “agree to disagree” over from the ones that are “hills we must die on.” For, Jesus has commissioned us to disciple the nations, teaching them to obey all that He has commanded us and this will require us to make and defend truth claims. And he modeled it with his own disciples, at times patiently enduring their wrongheaded beliefs and at times sternly rebuking them, wisely choosing between the two and saturating both with love. So, let us pray for the courage to stand for the truth and the wisdom to know when to criticize and a life of sacrificial love that keeps any accusations of hate from ever sticking.