Thursday, July 9, 2015

The perils of being a Christian florist, baker, clerk, etc.

Is the legalization of same-sex marriage a threat to religious liberty? According to this article, many Christians think so, especially after the Supreme Court ruling making it legal in all 50 states. Christian caterers, bakers, photographers, florists, and clerks are refraining from serving same-sex marriages, claiming that to participate would impinge on their religious liberty. This is a step beyond previous applications of religious liberty which simply let faithful separate themselves from institutions they can't support in good conscience rather than refusing to serve others. The subsequent ridicule and persecution of these individuals (and, in some cases, businesses) for taking a stand on their beliefs is seen by many Christians as a form of persecution by an irreligious culture that we can only expect to get worse. Rachel Held Evans has written a very sobering article analyzing and critiquing this "persecution complex", which is a heart check well worth reading, even though I ultimately disagree with her support for same-sex marriage in the church.

The refusal to serve same-sex couples for the sake of "religious liberty" presupposes, of course, that abstaining from having any part in same-sex weddings is morally obligatory for Christians, even those who normally serve weddings as their job. It is to this assumption that I would like to offer a response in four parts. At least two of these I have already stated in previous posts but would like to reaffirm and clarify here. All four take the form of distinctions that I think it is important, now more than ever, for Christians to keep in mind in order to live faithfully in a culture which, undeniably, is increasingly rejecting God, or indeed any kind of transcendent power or value beyond the cause célèbre of "liberty" in all its forms.

The legal institution of marriage is not the sacrament of marriage.

As I have said, I have previously made this point, but I don't think it can be repeated too often now. In the Bible marriage is not referred to as an "institution", but as a "mystery" (Eph 5:32)—or, in the Latin which has become the basis for our English word, sacramentum. In Orthodox teaching a "sacrament", or mystery, is a particular, visible means by which we receive the grace of God to a certain end. As Fr. Thomas Hopko explains, the goal for Christians and for the Church is for all of life to become "sacramental", lived in mystical and life-giving union with God; the sacraments are simply special examples of this union; unlike the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church has never restricted the term "sacrament" to just seven rites. "In the sacrament of marriage," Hopko says, "a man and a woman are given the possibility to become one spirit and one flesh [Gen 2:24] in a way which no human love can provide by itself." Christian marriage began simply as the formal recognition or blessing of the love between a man and a woman, a union designed by God not merely for our enjoyment, but to visibly depict the unyielding, transformative, covenantal love of Christ for his bride, the Church.

My point is that this dimension of marriage has obviously always been distinct from the one recognized by the state. This was obvious in the early Church, which (in a curious reversal of the modern situation) blessed marriages that the empire was not willing to sanction, e.g. between two people of radically different social classes. Even in later centuries, when the Church was nearly coterminous with the state, the legal institution of marriage was distinct from the spiritual mystery believed to be taking place. It is becoming increasingly evident again today: though most couples still find it advantageous and desirable to have their marriage recognized in the eyes of the state, this remains, as it has always been, distinct from their sacramental union in the eyes of their church. The state can do whatever it likes with the civil institution of marriage, but it has no power whatsoever to redefine the sacrament of marriage.

Increasingly today, there is a disconnect between the character of legal and sacramental marriage as well as their nature. This article talks about how the sacramental view of marriage has largely been replaced in our culture by what the author calls a "therapeutic view" of marriage, one whose main point is the happiness, betterment, and self-fulfillment of two individuals. This is a much more pragmatic and self-oriented approach than marriage as a sacrament, one which is able to be dissolved at any time if the marriage turns out to no longer be mutually beneficial. The replacement of the sacramental view with the therapeutic one in our culture (to say nothing of our churches!) was and is a far greater threat to the "sanctity of marriage" than the legalization of same-sex marriage or even the rise of "no-fault divorce", not least because it made these things seem not only acceptable but desirable. Why is it so rarely questioned, in stark contrast to the public and ugly protests against same-sex marriage?

So I would like to state one more time that it is misleading and arguably dangerous to simply refer to marriage (whether in a civil or religious context) as an "institution", and to think, speak, and act under the assumption that what is said and legislated regarding this institution in civil or political discourse somehow affects its spiritual nature, or vice versa. The ongoing redefinition of marriage in our culture may be a strong sign that it is becoming (or has already become) post-Christian, but it is no threat at all to the sacrament that continues to be performed in American churches, and Christian activists do themselves and their brothers and sisters few favors by believing otherwise.

Tolerating sin is not condoning sin.

As I said in my virally popular post on same-sex marriage, we still have a lot to learn from Jesus in how we treat other people. (Understatement of the year?) I'll simply quote myself for a moment:
who did Jesus associate with, besides His disciples? Tax collectors (like His disciple Matthew, Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14), "sinners", (Matthew 11:19, Mark 2:15-17, Luke 15:1-2), Samaritans (John 4:4-42), and Gentiles (Matthew 15:22-28, Luke 7:1-10)—in general, the castoffs and outcasts of His society. It was the Pharisees, the "holy" men who claimed the moral high ground, for whom He reserved most of His scorn (see Matthew 23). Obviously there is much that Jesus could have condemned about the lives the people around Him were leading, yet in most cases He says nothing; He stays and eats with them and attracts them to His teaching. ... Yet Jesus does not endlessly tolerate peoples' sin or treat it like it's no big deal. The difference is in the order in which He does things.
For many American Christians (or at least the ones who make it onto the news), the prevalent attitude towards gays seems to be one of condemnation: confronting people with the truth, telling them the "bad news" of their sins so they can receive the good news of the gospel. Even when this is done out of "love" rather than unconcealed hatred or disgust (of which RHE gives some chilling examples), holding out peoples' (particular) sins in your witness, to the point of being willing to disrespect them or even to refuse to serve them in a professional capacity, is incongruous with our Lord's example. Except for the Pharisees and teachers of the law, he never used peoples' sins as a reason to treat them badly—more often as an occasion to treat them with love and grace, knowing that this would more effectively lead them to repentance. I would say more on this, but it leads very closely into the next distinction...

The church (much less an individual Christian) is not the "moral police".

To put it more clearly, the role of the Church, at least in the present time, is not to pass judgment on the world; it is instead to judge those already in the Church. St. Paul says this 1 Corinthians 5, saying pointedly in verses 12 and 13: "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. 'Drive out the wicked person from among you.'" It is God's place to judge the world; it is ours to judge ourselves and each other (Mat 7:1-5), and to make known his gospel and salvation to the world.

I don't understand what Christians passing condemnation on homosexual behavior in the world are trying to do. Do they expect non-Christians to abide by a roughly "Christian" ethic of marriage, despite not understanding or partaking in its sacramental, grace-filled depths? Our culture has arguably lost the vocabulary and very ability to do so, having traded the Church's sacramental, covenantal understanding of marriage for language of self-fulfillment, personal liberty, individual rights, and the pursuit of happiness. We cannot expect anyone to recover this understanding without first being converted. In light of this, expecting those outside the Church to play by our rules when it comes to marriage is not helpful, and may even be counterproductive.

What I mean by this is that refusing to do something as basic as bake a cake for someone (as part of a business transaction) because of your religious beliefs makes them feel (in the words of the New York Times article) "judged and mortified" and will very likely have the effect of driving them away from having anything to do with those beliefs. Even if you consider warning people of their sin a "loving" thing to do, in such a case as this they will likely only see it as "loving" (rather than hateful) after they have been converted; until then, it may create a formidable (and unnecessary) obstacle to that conversion.

The Church reads Matthew 13:24-30, the parable of the weeds, as a warning against judging those outside for these reasons. In seeking to root out the "weeds" (sinners, enemies of the kingdom of God) in this world, we may also uproot the "wheat" (those who are or would become Christians) along with them. It is trumpeted nowhere as clearly as in evangelical Protestantism that you don't have to get "cleaned up" before coming to God in repentence, and this sentiment is very true. Why does homosexuality work any differently? Why this insistence on calling gay couples out on their sin, to the point of claiming that being required to serve them would be a violation of your religious liberty, of your rights as an American citizen?

Paul, it turns out, has much to say about the use of "rights" or "liberty", specifically in 1 Corinthians 8-10. As a faithful, Messiah-following Jew, Paul is very much aware that idols have no real existence, and that meat sacrificed to idols is just meat. He is at liberty, therefore, to eat such meat without any wrongdoing. But in 8:9 he warns, "only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." The popular perception that Christianity teaches bigotry and discrimination is definitely a stumbling block in our culture. Do we contribute to it through the exercise of our "liberty"?

In chapter 9 Paul goes on to describe his rights as an apostle, but also expresses a radical willingness to renounce these rights in order to win as many people with the gospel. (9:15-18) "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more." (9:19) Throughout these three chapters Paul shows how he elevates the salvation over others above his concern for himself: "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. ... Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved." (10:24, 32-33) The example he thus sets is of one who is willing to lay nearly everything aside, including rights and liberties (or maybe even his own salvation; Romans 9:1-5), to win people over to the gospel. Discriminating against same-sex couples for the sake of your "religious liberty" has the opposite effect, and seems to reflect the American worldview a good deal more more than Paul's.

Elsewhere he well describes the attitude that Christians are to assume, not least of all at times such as this. (Note how the beginning of verse 16 implies that verses 14 and 15 describe the attitude Christians should hold towards those outside the Church, even those who persecute them)
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. 17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but [rather] give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance [is] Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 20 Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Rom 12:14-21 NKJV]
Paul did not believe that Christians should antagonize or behave callously towards those in "the world", but rather (leading by example here) that they should live uprightly and graciously, giving no occasion for criticism or scorn except for their proclamation of Jesus Christ. (cf. 1 Cor 10:32, 2 Cor 6:3) The Lord's promise that the world will hate us for his sake (Jhn 15:18-21) is by no means an invitation to seek out such hatred, or to dismiss it without self-examination when it flares up.

Doing your job for someone is not an approval of their decisions or lifestyle.

But isn't it still important to avoid participating in sin? Isn't this even more basic than winning people for Christ? Indeed it is. But is simply having anything to do with a same-sex marriage "participating in sin"? Not necessarily; in most cases it is simply doing your job. How far can this attitude be taken? Should Christians working in printing companies refuse to make invitations for same-sex weddings? Should Christians at rental companies refuse to lend them tables, chairs, or ice cream machines? Should Christians in commodities firms make sure they don't sell any precious metals or stones to jewelers who might in turn sell wedding rings to gay couples?

The more general question to be asked is this: when is it acceptable to apply your own religious beliefs to others in your capacity as a worker (as opposed to an individual, and as opposed to personally sinning)? To which I would tentatively answer: if it is your job to apply your beliefs to others. That is, if you are a spiritual leader under whose religious authority they have placed themselves. If you are a pastor or priest, if the scope of your job actually includes sanctioning and blessing the union of a couple through the sacrament of marriage, then by all means do your job properly and be discriminatory in whom you marry. You have the constitutional right to do so, and to do otherwise would be a corruption of the teaching and practice of the Church.

For the rest of us, I don't think it's appropriate to use your job to apply your beliefs to others, at least not if it means doing your job poorly or not at all (all things being equal, isn't it better for Christians to be known as good rather than bad employees?). Simply doing your job for someone doesn't mean accepting everything about how they are living or what they are doing. Again, this is not the same as abstaining from work that you regard as actually sinful. It also does not rule out sharing and living your faith as an individual, as long as it doesn't detract from your work.

Try to apply this to case of a Christian (say) baker tasked with making a cake for a same-sex wedding: you are being asked to make a cake, not to officiate at the wedding or to justify it in God's sight. So do your job and make the cake. It is not yours to call the couple out for whatever kind of sin they may be living in, but rather to search your own heart for sin, such as fear or intolerance of your neighbor. If your Christian faith comes up, by all means express (as a Christian individual) that you believe God intends for marriage to be between a man and a woman, but that (as a Christian baker) you are nonetheless happy to serve them. If your mere disapproval induces the couple to look elsewhere for a cake, then you will not be the "intolerant" or discriminatory one.

Postscript: After some more reflection, I don't think the separation I just drew between being an individual and being an employee is absolute. It is fairly straightforward if you are simply tasked with making something or performing clerical work for a wedding. If your job actually involves personally participating in a wedding (e.g. as a photographer or musician), it becomes much harder to make such a distinction, and (in my view) more justifiable to abstain from serving a same-sex wedding for conscience's sake—especially if you are already selective in the jobs you take on.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The American Worldview

In my last post I mentioned the idea of an "American worldview" that is instrumental in shaping American culture and public life. I meant to expand more on this, which I will do now.

What is a worldview?

I'll start be defining what I do and don't mean by "worldview". In evangelical circles there is a certain way of defining and thinking about worldview. The highly creative "choose your own adventure" apologetics book What's Your Worldview? by James Anderson (reviewed here) states that "[a worldview] represents your most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe you inhabit ... It reflects how you would answer all the ‘big questions’ of human existence, the fundamental questions we ask about life, the universe, and everything." A worldview is to thinking as the atmosphere is to breathing: fundamental and indispensable, but hard to detect and usually taken for granted. The review further indicates that the "big questions" worldviews answer focus on such weighty topics as the nature or existence of God and truth.

This apologetics page explains in more depth what a worldview is:
Our worldviews consist of our best guesses or firm convictions in answering the universal human questions: How did everything come to be? Why are we here? What happens after we die? What’s important? A worldview is made up of the beliefs about what is real and important. It is our beliefs about the unseen – the spiritual, the philosophical, and valuable. Our worldview will determine how we interpret our lives and the world around us. It shapes how we think about everything.
It goes on to list four core areas of belief that worldviews pertain to.
  • God and the immaterial
  • The meaning and purpose of life
  • Human nature
  • What we trust is the primary source of spiritual truth [i.e. truth about what is unseen]
This paper gets into even more detail about worldviews:
Our word worldview comes from the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who in 1768 coined the term as Weltanschauung (in German Welt = “world” and anschauung = “view”). As the word itself suggests, a worldview is as a way of looking at the world. Your worldview is like the eyeglasses through which you view and interpret your experiences. Other phrases that capture the idea are “mental grid,” “frame of reference,” and “shared perceptions of what is real, true, and good.” A worldview seeks to answer the Big Questions in life, such as Who am I? Where did I come from? What’s most important in life? It’s a whole mountain of assumptions of which you may or may not be aware but upon which your conclusions are based.
Some common themes are evident here: worldviews comprise our most basic and important beliefs, our answers to the "big questions" about God, truth, the purpose of life, human nature, etc. Our worldview is important because it shapes and colors how we think about and interpret everything else in our lives and the world around us. It determines our presuppositional starting point for dealing with the information, events, beliefs, and questions we face in everyday life.

While the beliefs and questions this definition of "worldview" draws our attention to are hugely important, I no longer think it fully encapsulates the concept it sets out to do. This is because it centralizes cognitive beliefs and elevates them as the only thing that truly shapes our orientation to life. The paper explicitly says that worldview is distinct from culture, and that it is possible for two people (say, in a California suburb) to share the same culture but have very different worldviews. This assumes that culture is "shallow", consisting of things like language, behaviors, customs, and social norms that don't really affect at core how we view and interact with the world, while worldview is "deep" and consists of basic beliefs that do affect it. I think this assumption doesn't give culture enough credit—to our peril. The Christian philosopher Jamie Smith, similarly critiquing such cognitivist, belief-oriented "worldview-thinking", gives the example of a shopping mall as a significant formative influence which this kind of thinking misses (his reference to the Supreme Court is almost eerily timely):
Typical worldview-thinking is not primed to recognize something like [the way going to the mall shapes and aims our desire] because it is too focused on the cognitive. If you think cultural critique is based on ideas of beliefs, and that cultural "threats" come in the form of messages and "values," then you'll have a cultural radar that is only equipped to pick up on ideas and beliefs. But the mall has never been guilty of being a think tank; one doesn't usually think of the Gap or Walmart as sites of the culture war because they don't traffic in ideas. As a result, the threat of these sites doesn't register on worldview radar; because such worldview approaches remain largely fixated on the cognitive, something like the mall drops off the radar (while an institution like the U.S. Supreme Court is unduly amplified). But all the while the ritual practices of the mall are grabbing hold of hearts and capturing imaginations, shaping our love and desire, and actually forming us in powerful, fundamental ways. If our cultural critique remains captivated by a cognitivist anthropology, then we'll fail to even see the role of practices. This constitutes a massive blind spot in much of the Christian cultural critique that takes place under the banner of worldview-thinking. (Desiring the Kingdom 84–85)
The British theologian N.T. Wright, especially in his towering magisterial series Christian Origins and the Question of God, gives and utilizes what I consider a much more comprehensive and thus workable definition of a worldview. He begins his definition by saying:
Worldviews have to do with the presuppositional, pre-cognitive stage of a culture or society. Wherever we find the ultimate concerns of human beings, we find worldviews. From that point of view, as the echo of Paul Tillich in the phrase 'ultimate concern' will indicate, they are profoundly theological, whether or not they contain what in modern Western thought would be regarded as an explicit or worked-out view of a God-figure. 'Worldview', in fact, embraces all deep-level human perceptions of reality, including the question of whether or not a god or gods exist, and if so what he, she, it, or they is or are like, and how such a being, or such beings, might relate to the world, Though the metaphor of sight can over-dominate (worldview), the following analysis should make it clear that worldviews, in the sense I intend, include many dimensions of human existence other than simply theory. [i.e. the Greek theoreo, to see, discern, consider] (The New Testament and the People of God, 122–123)
This description has some parallels with the ones above, but also some clear differences: Wright explicitly argues worldviews are pre-cognitive (i.e. not consisting basically of cognitive beliefs), associates them with culture and society, connects them with the "ultimate concerns" of human beings (leaving room for desires and imagination, as Jamie Smith champions), and refuses to limit them to matters of theory. Elsewhere Wright clarifies, as above, that worldviews are like lenses through which you view the world: you rarely look at them or consider them consciously, except perhaps when they are violated or challenged; you more typically look through them at everything else. Or they are like the foundation of a house: normally out of sight and mind, but essential for supporting everything that comes after.

Worldviews, according to Wright, typically involve four things:
  1. The stories through which human beings view reality; the overarching narrative, and perhaps one or more sub-narratives, in which people locate themselves to make sense of their context. "Narrative is the most characteristic expression of worldview, going deeper than the isolated observation or fragmented remark." (NTPG 123)
  2. Answers to the basic questions of human existence and meaning, derived from the stories; element corresponds to the entire definition of worldview given by the earlier sources. These questions are basic ones like "Who are we?", "Where are we?", "What time is it?" (i.e. in the stories), "What is wrong?", and "What is the solution?". "All cultures ... have a sense of identity, of environment, of a problem with the way the world is, and of a way forward ... which will, or may, lead out of that problem."
  3. These stories and the answers they provide to the basic questions are expressed in cultural symbols. Wright explains that these symbols can be either artifacts or events. Applying this model to second-temple Judaism, he names things like Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Passover as such symbols. These symbols "can often be identified when challenging them produces anger or fear." (NTPG 124) and can function as social or cultural boundary markers; those who observe them are "insiders" to a culture, those who do not are "outsiders". Symbols serve as acted and visible reminders of a worldview that is otherwise largely invisible.
  4. Finally, worldviews include a praxis, a "way-of-being-in-the-world." The answer to the last question "what is the solution?" implies the need for action of some kind. "Conversely, the real shape of someone's worldview can often be seen in the sort of actions they perform, particularly if the actions are so instinctive or habitual as to be taken for granted."
Again, worldviews are like lenses through which people see the world, or like the foundations of a house: vital, but invisible. They are not usually called into conscious thought unless significantly challenged, but they can be discussed and reflected on if necessary; this is what makes conversion possible. More often, worldviews come into view through the basic beliefs (about what is) and aims (about what should be done) that they generate.

Thus, in Wright's (and my) view, worldviews are not so much what we today think of as "belief systems": theism, atheism, agnosticism, pantheism, and so on, nor are they epistemologies, though they probably include and assume these things. They are more comprehensive than either of these, much closer to what we would consider a "culture" with its common stories, symbols, and practice, and it makes sense to talk about them as belonging to societies (or in today's pluralistic world, subcultures within societies) as to individuals.

So, if it is possible to speak of worldviews as belonging to cultures and societies, it seems likely that the United States itself has a worldview, as I argued last time. Let's stop and try to see what this worldview is like using Wright's rubric.

Describing the American worldview

In what follows I will try to outline what I think the "American worldview" might look like. My answers will certainly be incomplete; you might be able to give some more examples.

The overarching American narrative, the one we locate ourselves in and see as having continued since our nation's earliest days, is the escape from tyranny and oppression (economic, political, religious) to justice and liberty, from absolute monarchy to democratic rule by the people, for the people. This mission was decisively accomplished by our gaining independence from Britain, but also continues to this day as we continue to work our America's founding principles and secure more and more rights for more and more people. This gives rise to subnarratives, like the women's suffrage and civil rights movements, which we look back on positively as having advanced the causes of liberty, equality, and individual rights which arguably serve as the end goals or ultimate "good" of the American narrative. Our story is one of struggle and victory over forces both internal and external that threaten to impinge on these causes.

  • Who are we? We are rational human beings endowed by our creator with dignity, equality and certain intrinsic rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Where are we? The land of the free and the home of the brave, a beautiful land which we have claimed for democracy at great cost. More recently, it is also the world's largest economy, the most powerful global superpower, and a standard-bearer of sorts for the cause of freedom.
  • What is wrong? People (or certain subgroups of people) are still not as free as they should be; depending on your political affiliation, this may be because of poverty, capitalism, crime, discrimination, illegal immigration, or oppressive government policy, and different rights may be at stake.
  • What is the solution? Democratic or social change; mobilizing the people to claim their rights, just as the colonists did. 
  • What time is it? This question doesn't have a very clear or strong answer; the most accurate one might simply be "now". There is no expected future culmination of America's history, except perhaps the spectre of dystopia, a hypothetical negative future to be avoided at all costs by doing/not doing ____.

Some obvious American symbols would be artifacts like the flag, our founding documents, monuments like the Statue of Liberty, or buildings around our capital, irrespective of the people in them. Events like the Pledge of Allegiance and holidays like Veterans' Day, Memorial Day, and (of course) especially Independence Day would also be up there. while giving examples of symbols, Wright also mentions that monuments to economic success (e.g. skyscrapers) and veterans (represented by Veterans'/Memorial Day) might count. The key to seeing if something is a symbol of the American worldview is whether disrespecting it (whatever form that takes) is seen as "un-American", or even suspicious/threatening.

Some of the symbols mentioned above (such as the Pledge of Allegiance, or still more the national anthem) are participatory symbols which probably fit into praxis as well. More generally, though, civic engagement and active participation in democracy are seen as ways to secure liberties. As well, some are called into military service (which is seen very favorably) ostensibly to secure those liberties. More prominent than either of these in everyday life and based on the popular idea that America is already the "freest nation in the world", though, American praxis is oriented towards something referred to as the "American dream". This consists roughly in living a comfortable, happy, life, provided for by the well-oiled consumerist/capitalist machine, enjoying your liberties without trampling on anyone else's; what you do with your freedom, resources, and time at this point is up to the individual. One could sum up the American worldview by saying that its highest goal is freedom and equality for freedom and equality's sake.

Which is what I meant last time by "ateleological". There is in this worldview little sense of what you "should" do with your freedom once it is secured; such a thing would be antithetical to the very idea of freedom. There is no common higher goal or end (telos) toward which we are to strive; individual freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and self-determination, secured by individual rights, constitute the highest goal, which in turn make it possible for each individual to determine his or her own telos and pursue it. In this regard, the American worldview is profoundly at odds with Christianity, which is strongly, unashamedly teleological in its vision for human flourishing: "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31)

Within this worldview, the legalization of same-sex marriage makes perfect sense. A group of people was formerly marginalized and denied equal rights; it made its desire for equality known and, through years of struggle, received it in accordance with the American ideal of freedom. It's almost the Revolution in microcosm. There is nothing in the American worldview inconsistent with "marriage equality" because within it there is no room, no vocabulary to even express, the idea of divine will as a reason to do or not to do something. Maybe there was when the population was substantially Christian with a large shared moral foundation, but this foundation has largely eroded, and continues to do so in the increasingly pluralistic present. This response to the Supreme Court ruling is fantastic and worth reading in full; at one point the author says, "I've long said that if the only argument against same-sex marriage is that God disapproves, then it not only ought, but must be allowed in the United States."

So if we are so concerned with God's disapproval of homosexuality, let's at least be aware of the worldview of individual libertarian freedom and self-determination that has led to its widespread acceptance. As I said last time, this worldview is too fundamental to be resisted through the political, polemical processes that seem to come so naturally to conservatives. Rather, we can resist it the way the early Christians resisted the prevailing worldview of their own parent culture, namely by living a different one, one shaped (as Wright is eager to explain) around the "gospel" of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. That so many churches view American freedom strictly as a positive thing, as entailing freedom to worship without persecution, and see no need to do as the early Christians did, is worrying.

How does the church become the alternative to the "American gospel" (drawing another parallel between the claims of country and of Christ)? Not embracing its language of equality and individual freedom as unqualified, "Christian" goods is a start, as is holding to Christian ethical teaching even if it is derided as unpopular or unequal. (But not seeking to impose it on those outside the church) Better still to examine oneself and one's church and look for how American values like individualism, self-determination, and directionless "liberty" have crept in. Or to look at how terms like "freedom", "equality", and even "rights" (ideas about which the Bible does have things to say) are defined and used in contrasting ways in American discourse and Christian teaching. I need to do this as much as anyone; I'm not even close to figuring out the answers to the questions I'm raising here, or even to adequately describing the American worldview.

Maybe the first step is simply to realize how comprehensive and pervasive worldviews are, and to look at how the worldviews of church and culture contrast. I would love to join (or start) a conversation on this subject.