Imagine yourself in the midst of controversy, reaching out for the counsel of two friends. After owning up to your responsibility, your friends respond in ways which could not be further apart. The first one says, “What’s the big deal?” The second friend says, “How dare you?” Popular thought leaders in America only acknowledge those two contrasting responses to homosexuals–permission and shame. The first is an unquestioned acceptance of gay lifestyles; the second is an unmitigated rejection of gay people. Few of us live entirely at these opposite ends, but decades of debate has created two polarized camps–like an old bitter couple who no longer hear each other.
Now imagine a third friend entering the scene. He learns about your situation and reaches out to you first. His voice carries a note of concern, but you catch no shame in it. He neither dismisses your circumstances lightly nor runs from them. He disagrees without patronizing and affirms without compromising. You note a powerful difference between this kind of regard and the carte blanche acceptance of “friend one.” At a place deeper than lifestyle, sexuality, and ego, you feel a sense of unconditional hope and peace.
Same-sex advocates suspect this kind of third response. Some of them dismiss it as “love the sinner, hate the sin” condescension. But people who genuinely engage differences with both grace and truth walk a challenging road less traveled. This path runs between the following two ditches.
Ditch one: Traditionalism
Traditionalists wield truth without grace. Jaroslav Pelican spoke well of tradition, calling it “the living faith of dead;” but he called traditionalism “the dead faith of the living.” Whereas tradition helps convey a robust story of faith transcending time and place, traditionalism reduces faith to cold rules and institutional identity. Truth without grace creates a barrier of judgment around a shrinking community.
Ditch two: Progressivism
Progressivists push grace without truth. Victims are their platform and permission is their solution. They hang the world’s problems on the establishment, especially faith-based institutions. They trot their moral high horse down the path of least resistance into the ditch of self-centered freedom. Grace without truth elevates individual desires above any common vision of community.
The third way of grace and truth challenges men and women of faith to live with bold convictions and generous hearts. People on this road less traveled don’t discount their beliefs, but they are humble about how much they live up to them.
“What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. – G.K. Chesterton
Joani Jack says
Thanks for the courage to enter the tough areas, Tim. You have so well described our tendencies — MY tendency — to lean to one extreme or the other.
The thing that strikes me the most in your story is that you describe the third person as a friend. Too often, I have tried to strike the balance between grace and truth, but to do so in the intellectual, distant manner of discussing a difficult ISSUE. This particular topic, like no other, demands that we follow the example of Christ and engage in one-on-one relationships with living, breathing people. To do so changes us, and for most of us (me, at least) such change is terrifying. And yet, I think God continues to reveal Himself through His creation — and human beings are His prized possession (James 1) and therefore an important way that He reveals Himself.
Perhaps in this particularly difficult discussion, a “rule” should be that no one is allowed to establish their own position without first engaging in a close enough friendship with a gay or lesbian person to ask his or her story and be considered a friend. Maybe then we would be more likely to emulate the third person in your example,.. demonstrating the grace, love and truth of Christ without fear of offending those on either side who may misunderstand.
All I know for sure is this: God is at work, in a major way.
Thanks again, and have a great day. Joani
Phil Meadows says
Tim, echoing Joani’s comments, I applaud your courage and transparency in dealing with this issue. I found it very convicting of my tendency to “love the sinner – hate the sin” while not actually engaging the friend or relative in meaningful, intimate conversation. While I feel compassion for individuals in the gay lifestyle, I admit I hold animosity toward those who promote or push for it’s open acceptance as “normal”. Please pray for me to exercise wisdom, compassion, love and an ability to act in a Christ-like manner in interacting with some friends as well as a family member who are living that lifestyle. On this issue, as well as any other, we need to choose the path of “The Third Way vision”. Thank you for your insight, guidance and friendship.