I’ve been enjoying teaching the basic concepts of my book Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World to students gathered for the annual conference of the Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship (= IFES = IVCF = UCCF) in New Zealand. This morning I found myself articulating a feeling that’s been growing within me since the American Supreme Court decided, barely, to make same-sex marriage legal in the United States. And that feeling is this: Keep Calm and Carry On.
Downstream of the Canadian Parliament’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage almost a decade ago, it is increasingly perilous in Canada today to articulate any position other than full-on endorsement of same-sex marriage—even if you get anyone in the mainstream media or among the cultural elites to give you a listen, which is becoming rare indeed. Any position other than The Right One is now met with revulsion in bien-pensant Canadian society, as if one were defending chattel slavery or child pornography. Traditional sexual mores in this regard have very quickly become un-thinkable among many and almost un-sayable in public, for fear of…
…well, what? For fear of being written off as a horrible person, and thus silenced on any other subject one might want to address. This danger is, in my experience, very real, and those of us who don’t subscribe to the current correctness must weigh carefully whether one should speak up and almost certainly then undergo rather drastic marginalization in most polite company in Canada nowadays. (Maybe, that is, one shouldn’t…and maintain one’s credibility for other causes and concerns.)
For fear also of being restricted in what one can do institutionally, as in the tortuous and torturous case of Trinity Western University’s proposed Law School, a situation behind which lurks ramifications for orthodox Christian higher education in Canada, including the membership of such schools in the PSE club that matters most nationally, Universities Canada (formerly, “the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada”).
On the horizon, yes, one might fear also the withdrawal of tax advantages for certain social service groups, churches, and clergy. And there may yet be more implications as the tide of popular opinion continues to flow in.
Reading anguished Christian commentators on both sides of the border in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, one might think that a Rubicon has been crossed beyond which there are only two plausible stances: continued crusading for conservative Christian ethics so that America/Canada/the world will be thoroughly governed thereby, on the one hand, and, on the other, withdrawal into faithful communities of resolute holiness, with despair over the general condition of society balanced by hope of Jesus’ imminent return, before which we ought to evangelize and otherwise serve our neighbours as quietly and effectively as we can.
I respectfully suggest that we might just try living with our neighbours and riding out this particular cultural moment without worrying overmuch about where it will lead. I am not saying, to be sure, that the SCOTUS decision doesn’t matter, that same-sex marriage doesn’t matter, that marriage and sex don’t matter: of course they do. I am not saying that Christians cannot faithfully adopt different postures toward the culture in response to these challenges: I believe we can.
What I am saying, however, is that to imply Constantine on one hand or to invoke the early church on the other is to ignore other ways of participating in North American society, as in other societies…such as New Zealand’s. Why not try being good neighbours in an indefinitely extended pluralism, during which we will win some and we will lose some; during which we will celebrate the massive ship of state slowly moving to correct this or that injustice and then endure the inevitable over-correction that then occurs; during which we will try to model neighbourliness while so many around us lose their heads (and voices) in screaming in overweening triumph or self-aggrandizing victimhood; during which we will defend the importance of free speech and religious dissidence…and for everyone, not just ourselves; and during which we will remember what both the early church and Constantine, in their very different ways, seemed to thoroughly believe: Jesus is Lord?
There is yet much, much, to be done to cultivate shalom, bless our neighbours, and further the gospel without resorting to ramped-up Christian imperialism or tamped-down Christian sectarianism. Let us keep doing all the good we can, in all the ways we can, in faith…rather than in freaking out.