“Surely, these are the end times.”
Christians are more likely to utter this phrase now that the United States Supreme Court has struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and upheld the California Court decision to strike down Proposition 8, which effectively banned homosexual marriage in the state. What the opinion accomplished was to prevent a federal ban on such marriages and to allow individual states to make their own choices (not necessarily a bad thing). There are those, of course, who actually wished the federal courts would have forced a universal legalization of same-sex marriage, overriding state laws.
The court, though, seems to have countered its own opinion. If California legally passed a ban on homosexual marriage by popular vote and that law was struck down by state court and the striking down was supported by federal court, did the state of California actually decide for itself on the issue?
For the Christian defenders of a traditional view of marriage derived from scriptures, this is a profound defeat. The culture has for several decades moved radically away from a divinely oriented view of marriage to a humanist view of marriage. Whereas the religious teachings on marriage were revered, they are now being replaced with a legal view of marriage. The question now is what the church should do in the face of such inglorious defeat.
It is here that popular views of the immediate future as well as an obsessive emphasis on the future are going to severely weaken and undermine Christian resolve to carry on culturally.
Evangelical Christianity has operated intensely over the past few decades under the “Left Behind” scenario. According to the current Christian prophet industry, our modern technological age as well as the fall of the United States will mark the rise of Satan’s empire on earth and shortly thereafter the end of human history and the material universe as we know it.
It sounds dramatic and given how “un-Christian” things seem to be in the United States, there is ample evidence that the world is in a spiritual and moral toilet and quickly flushing itself into obliteration. A Christian needs only the news feeds, his bible, and a shelf of books and he has all the bad news and prophetic predictions of dooms-day he will need for the brief decades humanity has left.
However, Christians have two choices when dealing with massive cultural and moral changes happening around them. It is the same two choices they have always had. They can either find an escape from or they can find hope in the midst of what is affecting them. Christians, for the most part, believe the culture around them is turning against traditional marriage and may soon make it difficult to vocally advocate for traditional marriage and near impossible to criticize other sexual alternatives (consider the concept of hate speech).
The popular call is for Christians to bet on an escape from the modern world, to quietly hope for a secret “rapture” in which Jesus miraculously smuggles them out of the material universe and to heaven where a kind of utopia awaits them. This is a pessimistic view of life masquerading as a “future hope.” It is cultish in its premise and essentially offers nothing here and now for Christians to work for other than biding their time. Since human history is on the verge of being annihilated in the judgment of God, there is nothing worth laboring for other than getting from point A to point Escape.
A more reasonable response would be for Christians to focus on their history and relinquish the obsession over the future. The future is ultimately unknown by all but God Himself. Being obsessed with it only breeds speculation and anxious expectations of events that may or may not come. The fatalism found in waiting for an escape from a doomed world, a proverbial sinking ship, renders life itself to be of little value. Christians abstain from fornication, marry, pray, and go to church because they are commanded to, but not necessarily because these things might actually go any good.
An extreme example of the recklessness of popular prophecy (so-called) can be found in Vietnam. In 2011, Harold Camping predicted the Rapture would happen May that year. In Vietnam, Hmong Christians by the thousands gathered in April and the resulting clash with Vietnamese police left dozens killed. The reason they gathered was because they expected the Rapture to happen just as Camping had predicted. Theirs was not a protest for better living conditions or the beginning of mass ministry to the poor, but a fatalistic motion based on the belief of imminent escape to a spiritual utopia. They martyred themselves for a place in paradise. Pessimistic and fatalistic.
Christian history is far from being speculative and is grounded in real and substantive evidence that can be persevered, studied, and learned from. The past provides a grounded foundation for identity and a fixed point from which to steer current endeavors. Christians know who they are today not because what might be coming tomorrow, but from what has already come yesterday. It is Christ crucified that informs the Christian identity and not being “rapture ready.” History educates and enriches, it provokes critical thought and preserves timeless wisdom. It is said those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
With a solid grounding in history and the abandoning of future speculation, the Christian is free to focus on life here and now. He is free to take his history, be confident in his identity, and do the noble work of learning and applying it not only for the glory of God, but the good of his neighbor. The work is always needed and though not always as productive as desired, it never wavers in its importance.
In the face of a culture shifting away from a traditional understanding of sexuality, biblical marriage, and possibly marriage itself, the Christian, grounded in history, can work here and now. He can practice a biblical-based morality in terms of marriage and sex and trust that God, in His providence and goodness, will right things over the coming decades, given that it is God that is sovereign. There is no reckless speculation or hopeless despair. There is patience, faith, and perseverance. There is leading by example. Sometimes a quiet and persistence faith can be a very bright light in a dark world.
The church needs to keep in mind that the court decision does not ban Christians from marrying on religious grounds and living in a traditional marriage. The Christian does not have to agree or accept the court’s decision, but they also do not need to throw themselves on swords and reenact a passion play. As uncomfortable as it is for Christians to live with a culture counter to their own, it is not hopeless nor beyond repair or redemption.
The grand scheme of mothership USS Jesus coming to beam Christians into another dimension is best left in the “fiction” section of bargain bin book sales.