It’s fun sometimes to imagine how we would have acted if we had lived in another time and place. Had we grown up with different influences we might have turned out as different people. But there are real commonalities between each of us and those before us. We share the same human nature, which is fixed, and sullenly, stubbornly fallen. We face the same economy of salvation as every person since Christ’s resurrection. So with Christian history at least, we can look at past actors and muster genuine empathy.
What’s more, we need to do that to understand our present. To choose our future. So let me urge you to ask yourself these questions. Then I’ll offer some hints that will help you find the answer.
You’re an adult Christian in the age of Diocletian. You’ve just learned that the government has ordered you to burn a pinch of incense before an idol of the emperor. Do you:
- Boldly step forth and announce in public that you will do no such thing — no matter the consequences.
- Quietly decide to try to evade the law, but resolve that if it comes to it, you will suffer and die rather than do this.
- Quietly decide that if you can’t escape this choice via bribery or deception, you will burn the pinch of incense to save your skin and your children’s.
- Boldly step forth and denounce the Christian extremists who are throwing away their lives for a silly point of principle. God gave you life. He didn’t ask you to throw it away on a technicality. Doing that would just feed your pride, and stoke division in society.
The culture has suddenly decided that the church’s universal teaching on sexual morality, which goes back in its essentials to the Old Testament, is wrong. In fact, if you affirm it, you are a hatemonger. You are just as bad as the 1950s segregationists.
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You’re a Christian in Egypt right after the Muslim conquest. The Arab invaders have announced that every non-Muslim must pay a heavy, crippling tax. That you’ll live in a kind of Jim Crow segregation, as your churches slowly crumble since you’re forbidden to repair them. That you may not preach the Gospel, ring bells, or do anything else that might attract attention. Do you:
- Stand firm in the face of this conquest, and go right on acting as you did before. You hand out Christian tracts to Muslims, ring your church’s bells, and scoff at the consequences.
- Obey the letter of this new and evil law, resolving to spread the Gospel by example if by nothing else. You quietly help out families that face ruin thanks to the taxes.
- Go through the motions of converting to Islam. That will save your family from financial devastation. But you promise yourself that you’ll whisper the Gospel quietly to your children in the secrecy of your home.
- Loudly convert to Islam, pointing to the many common values it shares with Christianity. In fact, you affirm, at the deepest levels these faiths are really the same.
Join the Revolution
You’re a Catholic pastor in Poland in 1945. The Soviets have just “liberated” your country from the Nazis. And now they’re imposing their own totalitarian regime. They’re repressing the churches openly, but offering exemptions to “peace priests” willing to work with the government. Those priests get to keep their parishes, and even get money to use for poverty projects. Do you:
- Denounce the Communists from the pulpit, and accept the consequences, which might include prison or murder.
- Keep your head down, but refuse to cooperate with the government. You quietly offer refuge to believers hunted by the government.
- You pledge your allegiance to the regime to save your neck. Then you hunker down and hope for the best.
- You take a stance of principle on behalf of the Revolution. You ransack the gospels for high-minded justifications — and when you can, you turn in those pastors who have made other choices. You’re confident that by attaining a position of influence in the country you can make a positive difference.
Now we’re ready for the last question. Your answer to this one will tell you what you really would have done in situations one through three.
Build a Bridge to the LGBT Community
You’re a Christian in America in 2017. The culture has now decided that the Church’s universal teaching on sexual morality, which goes back in its essentials to the Old Testament, is wrong. In fact, if you affirm it, you’re deemed a hatemonger. You are just as bad as the 1950s segregationists, who were just as bad as the Confederates. And they were just as bad as the Nazis. Billion-dollar companies are declaring organizations “hate groups” just for affirming what every Christian did as late as 1960. Do you:
- Announce publicly that this new sexual heresy is just as wicked and destructive as previous ones. Commit yourself to fighting against its public acceptance, whatever the cost to the rest of your witness on other issues that you care about. Even if it means you will lose donations, employment options, or friends.
- Quietly refuse to accede to these new views. Join efforts to prevent them from being enforced by the government. Offer discreet assistance and private support to those who chose option 1.
- Silently dissent from these new ideas, but keep it secret. To make up for your prudent choice not to rock the boat on all these issues, you promise to work extra hard to feed the poor or something.
- Become a public spokesman on the Church’s need to change its blinkered views on sexual identity. Read the Bible selectively, with emphasis on the passages about “acceptance” and “forgiveness.” Accuse groups 1, 2, and 3 of being Pharisees. Don’t think too hard about the fact that now you’re in fact a Sadducee. You know, that group of Jews in Jesus’ time who picked and chose which parts of the Bible they believed in, and worked hand in glove with the pagan Roman occupiers.
Try to answer honestly, in a number 2 pencil, coloring only inside the circles.