Absence of Grace in the Culture Wars

Abstract Rainbow Birthday Cake

There has to be some way to better go about this.  The Washington Post reported last week of a man in Colorado, Bill Jack, who in attempt to demonstrate the hypocrisy of recent court rulings related to the Traditional Marriage vs. Gay Marriage debates, requested two cakes that together expressed clear anti-gay sentiments.  Jack seems to have chosen his target bakery knowing the owner supports LGBT positions.  Whether Marjorie Silva, the owner of Denver’s Azucar Bakery, is herself lesbian, none of the articles I read seemed to say.  But it really does not matter.

I too have been disappointed by some of the recent court rulings related to this issue – whether it is the bakers forced to close down their bakery for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding; the photographers who were legally penalized for declining an invitation to photograph a gay wedding; or the New York couple who have rented their barn to couples wanting rustic weddings, but  who have been fined so heavily that they may now have to sell their farm because they declined to acceopt a gay couples request to rent it for their wedding.  While the issues may be somewhat complex, and I have not kept up with the details of these incidents, the principles at stake, to my mind, are simple.  There is enough free commerce in this country that these folks – Azucar included – should not be required to accept business that violates their moral standards.  In a free market system, if these folks demonstrate egregious business practices, it is likely they will suffer the consequences at the hands of the public – i.e.  they will go bankrupt from lack of business.

Of course there are other issues at stake. High among them is whether these instances fall under the authority civil rights discrimination protection. But it is not the question of actual business practices that is no my mind at the moment. As disappointed as I am about some court rulings, I think I may be even more disappointed in the tactic employed by Bill Jack. (BTW, is that a real name? It sounds like the name of a morning D.J.?)

Sympathetic as I am to the frustration that led Mr. Jack to act, I find his tactic and, even worse, his stated motive to be dubious and misguided.  Acording to the Washington Post article:

“[Mr. Jack] believes Azucar Bakery ‘discriminated’ against him ‘based on my creed,’ which is Christian.”

Here is where I have my biggest problem.  While some may find reason to applaud Mr. Jack’s tactic in this culture war issue, I am deeply chagrined that he makes the suggestion that his action was compelled because he is a Christian.  Even if it can be argued that Mr. Jack did not say he acted because he was a Christian, he at the very least says he was discriminated against because Azcur Bakery refused to make his cake because of the “Christian” message. Either way, it seems quite evident that Mr. Jack is equating Christianity with his actions.  And for me, that is the rub – or that’s what rubs me the wrong way.

I am deeply disturbed when those who call themselves Christians conflate the culture wars with the only thing that makes any of us Christians – the gospel.  And however you slice this cake, neither Mr Jack’s action nor his message are distinctly “Christian”. In other words, while they may be in line with traditional biblical values, they have absolutely nothing to do with the gospel.

There does seem to be some disagreement about what Mr. Jack wanted on his cakes.

The Washington Times, quoting the owner of Azcur Bakery, says:

 Anti-gay phrases including “God hates gays” and an image of two men holding hands, covered in a big, red “X.”

To World Magaize Mr. Jack says:

[H]e requested two cakes in the shape of an open Bible. He asked that the first cake show on one page, “God hates sin – Psalm 45.7,” and on the facing page, “Homosexuality is a detestable sin – Leviticus 18.22.” He requested that the second cake have on one page, “God loves sinners,” and on the facing page, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us – Romans 5.8.”

I tend to believe Mr. Jack in this. He is clear and intentional with his message. But I still maintain that, despite his use of Bible verses, there is nothing distinctly “Christian” in his message.  Further, his motive is certainly not driven by the gospel, but rather by the culture war.

I am not suggesting that Mr. Jack is not a Christian. Nor am I suggesting that Mr. Jack’s act is inherently wrong.  I am simply saying that while he may be free to act this way, and his values may be shaped by his faith, the action itself should not be viewed as Christian.

Jesus’ instruction to his followers is: “Be as shrewd as a serpent, and as innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10.16) Mr Jack seems to me to have the serpents shrewdness down, but there seems to me to be no moral innocence here.  I stand on the same side as Mr. Jack in this cultural issue, but I do not stand with him.  I believe his actions – and actions like these – have actually served to distort the gospel, which will make it all the more difficult for critics of Christianity to hear the gospel and understand what followers of Jesus actually stand for.

I do not consider Mr. Jack to have been wronged, at least not for his faith.  As it stands, nothing in Mr. Jack’s actions, nor in the actions of similar cultural activists, communicates anything about the substitutionary death of Christ for sinners – i.e. the gospel.  So if there is nothing inherently Christian in his message, motives, or behavior to be discriminated against, it stands to reason that he was not discriminated against – at least not for the reasons he claims.

Bill Jack offers just another expression of a Christ-less culture warrior, under the guise of Christianity – just another one driven by values, but devoid of grace.

6 Tips for God’s People in Response to a Culture Changed by Court Decree

Rainbow Sunset

While I do not want to become one of those guys who perpetually toots out only one tune, and I certainly do not want to make gay marriage or homosexuality the priamary notes of that tune, I do want to follow up yesterdays post with another reflecting on appropriate responses to the Supreme Court rulings yesterday.  This one is from an acquaintance, John Freeman, President of Harvest USA.


As the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the referendum of Proposition 8 in California, it certainly seems that the tide of our culture will continue to steadily move in the direction of the acceptance of gay marriage. So, what now? How are followers of Jesus Christ, and the church, to think about and respond to the recent decision by the Supreme Court? It is crucial that the church as an institution, and individual believers, respond well. John Freeman, president of Harvest USA, a ministry devoted to those struggling with sexual sin, thinks that the best response of the church now is to do the following six things:

1. We should not lash out in anger or be afraid

A fight or flight response is normal when cataclysmic events occur. But both these instinctual responses are unhelpful and unproductive. My wife has often told me, “John, when you speak or react out of fear or anger . . . bad things come out of your mouth.” She is usually right. Admittedly, we may legitimately fear where this decision will next take our nation; and we may legitimately be angry over how God’s design for the institution and function of marriage as it has historically benefited society is being hijacked. But we need to keep this in mind: As believers, our true citizenship is in heaven. We must think and act like those whose world has been impacted but not devastated.

I think a more productive response would be that of grief. We need to be grieved at what happened, grieved at the state of the culture, and grieved at how blind people are to the truth. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and her refusal to turn to him as their shepherd, and the Old Testament displayed a similar common response to tragic national events, where the people grieved in sackcloth and ashes.

Just grieve? Doesn’t seem very productive or helpful. It feels so powerless! Yes, but we need to remind ourselves that the “weakness” of the church is how the power of God is best displayed. The reason we don’t have to be angry or afraid is because . . .

2. We need to remind ourselves that God is still on the throne . . . neither slumbering nor sleeping

Although decided in the private chambers of the Supreme Court, this has not happened out of God’s sight. He is the God who knows all and sees all. This is beyond our rational understanding, but by faith we believe that God remains in control over all things, even over the decisions made by man and society that veer away from his wisdom. To respond with anger or abject fear is to forget this

Why God has allowed the acceptance of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage to be so prominent today will remain a mystery at some level. Why he has allowed it to split churches, denominations and families must also be trusted to his providence. We only know what Scripture does tell us: that this is a broken world, a world where his image-bearers are in rebellion against him and his intentional design for creation. Nothing really new here.

We must, as his followers, trust in Him at all times, especially when it seems that ungodliness has the upper hand. This is the courage of faith, and that courage must also move us to . . .

3. Boldly and gently proclaim the ultimate destructiveness of ungodly actions

While many will celebrate this decision as the advancement of an enlightened society and a triumph of inclusiveness and tolerance, the reality is that actions made in opposition to God’s design carry with them significant consequences. Several years ago noted pastor, teacher and author, James Boice, said, “It’s God’s world, not our world. Although we may want to rewrite the rules, we can’t, because it’s God’s world. And sin is destructive, whether or not we admit or agree, it’s still destructive.” By removing the definition of marriage from its historical and God-designed nature as being between one man and one woman, how long will it be before other forms of “marriage” will be legal (such as polygamy and polyamory)? What will be the effect on children and families as we move into territory that is completely new to human society?

These kind of ungodly decisions serve to remind us that the world in which we live is hostile to things of God. It reminds us that we live here as “aliens and strangers,” that we’re temporary residents of a foreign land. But it still remains a world that God so loved that he sent his only Son, so . . .

4. We must not avoid our calling: to engage the culture and all people with the truth and mercy of the gospel.

Even as culture goes off the rails, and we may seem powerless to stop it, we’re not off the hook from engaging the culture and actively loving people. Although we may want to retreat and go into self-protective mode, we must not. The church did not do so as the Roman culture descended into greater ungodliness and injustice. The downward spiral of our society and the increasing celebration of what is explicitly forbidden in God’s word make our sharing the gospel more important than ever! The gospel is the only hope for a broken world and fallen hearts. For this reason the church must not attack and demean gays and lesbians because of this issue. The gospel is a message of hope for everyone; not a platform for condemnation and ridicule. The gospel is heard through the words and deeds of His people. Another way to put this is our need too . . . .

5. “Keep calm and carry on” as God’s people and his church.

During World War II, people in Britain, during the bombing, felt that the world was falling apart. “Keep calm and carry on,” became a common phrase on billboards and posters as a way to encourage the British people. We need to follow this advice as well. How do we “keep calm and carry on” when we see everything around us in a downward spiral and decay? We lean on and trust in the Rock of our salvation, who is still with his people while we continue to carry out his Kingdom work.

We must not let these things have more power over us than they really do. And, thankfully, we still live in a country that allows our views to be heard and we should make our concerns known, about the reality of unintended consequences making further trouble and about the future of religious liberty, two major issues embedded in this controversy. But, again, we should not place our faith in any human political or legal structure as our ultimate protector or savior. Jesus said that his kingdom was “not of this world”—neither is ours. The mission of the church continues. The church cannot be either dismissed or destroyed. It remains God’s vehicle of redemption, worked out through his people. That mission will endure until he returns. And in the meantime, the church—and especially the next generation inside her doors— needs to be strengthened by. . .

6. Relevant and effective preaching and teaching about sex.

The silence of the church on many issues has contributed to the emergence of movements that have been detrimental to mankind (see Germany and the rise of Nazism). It can be argued that the church’s failure to preach and teach about why God’s design for sexuality is good, relevant and functional (even in a broken world) has created a vacuum for the acceptance of same-sex relationships. The church has said “No!” for too long as its main message on sexuality and now needs to say “Here’s how,” or here’s how God’s design for sexuality remains the best venue for people and society to flourish.


On a more personal note, I am looking forward to having John Freeman at our church this coming Fall.  On November 9 of this year, John will be leading a seminar, Finding Sexual Sanity in Sex-Crazed Society, at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Chuch in Williamsburg.

If you are interested, check out the Harvest USA blog.  You will find a number of excellent, thoughtful articles on a wide range of matters related to sexual brokenness: Harvest USA Blog

Prop 8, DOMA, and the Unchanging God


In light of the two U.S. Supreme Court decisions today, I was reminded of something my friend Mike Milton wrote that is pertinent to the issues related to these rulings.  Here is what Mike wrote:

When the rats begin to scramble on board the ship, it is a sure sign that the boat is sinking.

Self-described freedom-loving libertarians, and now Karl Rove, believe that Conservatives can embrace same sex marriage, or just leave it to the State as it is a personal “liberty” matter. The defense seems to be “Let the State allow whoever wants to be married to be married. It is a legal contract, not a religious ceremony, for goodness sake.”


The nation we live in is grounded in “inalienable rights” that come from God, not from government. Our government was designed to guard and defend these rights, not dispense or arbitrate them, because they are based upon “inviolable” laws which must not be transgressed, dishonored, or broken.

This is not a so-called “religious” matter, but a matter of “natural law” that transcends government and social trends and attitudes. One of those inviolable laws is the law of marriage. It is a “Creation Ordinance” in that it extends to the very beginning of humankind. It is embedded in our species as surely as murdering another person is or stealing from another is.

Jesus, when questioned about divorce, appealed to this Creation ordinance when he said, “It was not so in the beginning.” He went on to describe marriage as between a man and a woman and in that union, spiritually, physically, and socially, they become one. Biology itself defends the arrangement, and without ever appealing to St. Paul, I could appeal the universal law that is placed in man’s heart to defend heterosexual marriage.

The Church did not invent marriage; however, the Church (and the Synagogue) must seek to bless what God has placed in the very nature of mankind and the order of His universe.

To give in to libertarian or muddleheaded notions and cries for transforming what is encoded into the very law of life is to not only go down with the ship, but share in the culpability of destroying it.

Marriage between a man and a woman is an inviolable law that cannot be tampered with by man. It is lunacy and suicidal to think and act otherwise. And that is just what the Republicans are doing if they join the ranks of conscience-seared and sadly mistaken people who so cavalierly dislodge the veritable cornerstone of human civilization.

Be certain of this: a nation which denies the inalienable rights of nature and of nature’s God cannot stand and will eventually perish. Freedom cannot be shackled in the human soul.

I wholeheartedly agree with what Mike wrote.  And I am disappointed with the decisions of the Supreme Court.

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Cultural Argument Against Gay Marriage

Abstract Wedding

by Randy Hicks

Not many years ago it was unutterable, except perhaps as a schoolyard can-you-top-this, or as urban legend. Yet it is one of the most sensational issues of our time, and an almost-impossible topic to avoid. And, from what I’m hearing, it’s not always easy for people like you and me to articulate the reasons we oppose it. It’s called “same-sex marriage.”

“I know why same-sex marriage is wrong,” I often hear, “but I’m not sure how to articulate its dangers.” Christian friends are looking for a way to relate to those who may not hold the same views, and that’s wise.

To be clear, our religious beliefs do offer legitimate reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. But if we’re to win this important debate and win hearts and minds, we must be able to articulate our convictions in culturally relevant ways.

I’ve had the opportunity to take this debate into the university setting many times, this is what I hear from aggressive proponents of gay marriage:

• They’ve argued that denying them marriage is denying them the ability to have a loving commitment with another person. Frankly, that’s just not true. People love others and commit to others all the time—we just don’t always call it “marriage.”

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Same-Sex Marriage: Some Suggested Reads

Ever since President Barrack Obama mad his announcement about the Great Reversal, and his renewed support of Gay Marriage there has been no lack of opinions posted… well, pretty much everywhere.  I considered writing something up, but other pressing matters left me without the time to formulate words to express my opinions.  But I did take the time to read the takes of a number of others.  Some of those I appreciated most are posted below.  I will likely add more to this post as I run across anything poignant on this polarizing issue.

Of special note, I think Mike Horton’s two articles are tremendous. The first is as pertinent for Christians to consider as it’s title is provocative.