Defiance Without Malice

by Matthew Raley

As gay marriage becomes the law of the land, AmericanChristians may rediscover how to defy mainstream culture without malice.

For most of our history, we thought of ourselves as mainstream Americans. Churches had a well-defined role in civic life. We associated easily with most institutions. Political and artistic leaders felt obliged to reflect our language and principles.

But this was a dangerous illusion. It stiffened us with entitlement. It made us jealous for our social position. We imagined that we could avoid becoming peaceable outsiders.

We thought that we’d be able to follow Christ without having to say, as Peter did, “We must obey God rather than men.” We would never have to choose between employment and conscience, as English Puritans did. We would never have to face the scorn of our peers as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did when he became a theologian.

We thought we could be disciples without cost.

As our illusion is being smashed, Christians often spit malice at others, as if it were unjust to lose a bit of worldly welfare for Christ. Malice is not even a substitute for wit, much less for the Holy Spirit.

We should recognize that marriage is only part of a deeper disagreement. Do we set the terms for our lives or does God? Many say that we determine identity, relationships, sexuality, the beginning and the end of life for ourselves. Christians reply that God determines all those things. The very depth of the divide should soften our hearts.

In the permanent adolescence of identity politics, activists are reducing this disagreement to hatred. For years, I’ve defied right-wing populists stoking up malice in churches. Activists on the left who charge bigotry won’t find me shaking in my shoes. Americans understand that dissent is different from hatred.

So here’s my position as a pastor on gay marriage: I won’t participate in it. I will continue to teach and apply the same view of marriage I’ve always held—one man with one woman. No court, threat, lawsuit, fine, or tweet will change my views. I do not hate anyone who disagrees with me. Disagreement is part of life in our big country.

But conformity is not.