Kevin always looked forward to each meeting with Pilgrim, a retired educator who now worked as a freelance writer and photographer for a Christian NGO. This friendship was like an oasis for Kevin. The opportunity to talk about issues without fear of reprisal was a safe place. Kevin had come to recognize his need to be able to process the challenges of pastoral ministry with a friend who would engage him with wisdom, grace and humor. Pilgrim, was in many ways a spiritual director, a sage friend who offered a needed opportunity to learn the dance of community.
This early summer day a mild breeze rustled the leaves. The rippling water drifted along easily. The two friends walked along quietly, at ease with the silence. Kevin's thoughts drifted to the morning paper that had run a story on the big political issue being debated by state and federal legislators. The issue had become such a political hot button issue for the religious right and the liberal left--the definition of marriage.
"What do you make of this push by religious conservatives to 'preserve' the sanctity of marriage by pushing for a constitutional amendment?" Kevin's question broke the thoughtful silence.
Pilgrim's response was a typical one. "How do you see Jesus addressing this issue?"
Kevin chuckled, "Par for the course, you answer in the form of a question. Many in our congregation see the issue as a black and white cut and dried issue. They site the Scriptures that speak of homosexuality as a sin and hold strong convictions about the duty of Christians to fight for the "preservation" of God's design for marriage in our society. They see the state as the instrument by which we can preserve the moral fiber of our culture."
"And what do YOU think of that perspective?" asked Pilgrim.
"Well, I guess I see the motivation, but sometimes I wonder if the underlying assumptions are fully explored and acnowledged in light of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament," Kevin replied.
"Say more," Pilgrim replied.
"When I read the New Testament, I clearly hear Jesus calling his disciples and the Church to be salt and light in the world. As I think about this issue of marriage, it's definition in society, and so on, I have thought about several ideas that come to bear on this conversation. I hear Jesus calling the Church to be his representatives in the world."
"You mean like when Jesus said that he was giving him and the Church the keys to the Kingdom," offered Pilgrim.
"That's right, and I wonder sometime if the Church is looking for the state to enforce the righteousness of the Kingdom of God as if Jesus was head of the State, rather than head of the Church," Kevin replied his thoughts beginning to roll.
Kevin continued, "I think that if marriage is a sacred institution ordained by God, then it is within the Church that this holy sacrament is performed. It is within the Church that Christian marriage is performed. The Church, with Jesus as the head, has been given the authority to bind and to loose. The Church has been given the authority to marry a man and a women in holy matrimony. I guess I wonder what is behind the fervor to push for government to legislate that which is of the Kingdom of God."
Pilgrim paused to pick up a long stick that lay across the trail. "I hear what you are saying. You are suggesting that the Church not the State is who defines what marriage is from a Biblical perspective. The culture is not living under the Lordship of Jesus. With separation of Church and State, the Church is asking the legislators to carry out a spiritual function--a pastoral or episcopal function. And you are wondering if this is blurring the line between Church and State. Is that it?"
Kevin's face wrinkled as he pushed his way through the underbrush of his mind toward the clearing he was searching for, "Yes, that's partially it. But it also has to do with how we see the righteous Kingdom of God coming into history. Is the Kingdom of God closer...is sin held at bay...if constitutional laws are passed making gay marriage illegal. Is this really dealing with the root issues of the heart? And is this really where the Christians should be concentrating their energies? How does the Gospel come to be expressed in a culture is it from the top down, or from the bottom up? Sometimes I wonder if we aren't looking at issues more from a position of fear than of love? How would Jesus speak to the issue? Would he really be calling the Church to lobby on behalf of legislation...so that then his Kingdom would come? I don't see Jesus doing much of that kind of thing in the context of the Roman empire in his day."
"You do have a point there." said Pilgrim.
"Yet some would argue that Jesus didn't live in an era of democracy, where government is supposed to be by the people and for the people," Kevin continued. "So should the Church remain silent on issues such as marriage, while society redefines the norms according to a secular, individualistic view?"
"I think you have hit upon a central question that has been before the Church for 2,000 years," Pilgrim replied. "How does the Church interact with culture. Is it Christ over culture...Christ against culture...Christ through culture...or Christ transforming culture. How does the Kingdom of God, the network of God's people, the revolution of King Jesus come to bear on the principalities and powers of this present age."