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It seems that every week another news story strikes fear and loathing into the hearts of traditional Christians, especially when that story involves sexual morality and, more specifically, sexual identity. If Luther’s Anfechtungen focused on the question, “How can I stand before a righteous God?” ours might be, “How can we expect to live peacefully in a self-righteously hostile culture?”

The latest involves a couple, both pastors, who operate a wedding chapel and who are being prosecuted for refusing to officiate at a same sex marriage. The statement I have seen leaves some questions unanswered, as R. R. Reno indicated a few days ago. Yet even though murky, the case is one which will cause many Christians to experience the Anfechtungen of this present age. Why?

To my British ex-pat ear, the words “wedding chapel” by themselves are fairly disturbing. They summon up distressing images of middle-aged Elvis impersonators getting hitched to big haired Country and Western karaoke singers at drive thru churches in Vegas. That is surely disturbing enough to account for the aesthetic angst I felt when reading about the case. But setting matters of personal taste aside, it is surely true that such cases disturb us as Christians for deeper, more significant reasons. And this is regardless of how one parses the relationship of Church and state, the merits of wedding chapels, or the intricate legal differences between for-profit and not-for-profit entities.

The reasons may be many but a large part has to be the fact that the two most significant creators and enforcers of (im)moral opinion—institutions of higher education and the entertainment industry—are so completely committed not only to the total dismantling of any kind of morality even remotely reflective of traditional Christian norms but also (and more significantly) to the silencing or enforced cultural exile of those who dare to dissent. It is doubtful that even the oft-maligned New England Puritans were able to enforce a more effective and absolute code of sexual morality on the people.

On the issue of sexual identity, speech is now policed in a manner unprecedented in modern democratic states, even as that policing is performed by the more or less unaccountable educational institutions and the culture industry rather than by elected governments. And, as Archbishop Chaput pointed out in his Erasmus Lecture, the technologized nature of the modern world has made the business of government largely dependent on the business of entertainment and meeting the felt needs which such generates. It is not that the odds are overwhelming against our case being found plausible; it is that it can sometimes be hard to see where we might make the case at all.

For the Christian living in two worlds—the civil and the ecclesiastical—this raises challenges. There is the engagement with the public square which thoughtful citizenship demands and where intelligent Christian thinkers can help make the case in the long term for marriage or against abortion. But perhaps of more immediate pastoral concern is the panic or, more often, despondency that the hegemonic bluster of the academic and entertainment industries inculcates among ordinary Christians. Those Anfechtungen can be eased not so much by good arguments, rejected as they often are by the wider world, as by the Church being what the Church is supposed to be: that which points to the ultimate—and guaranteed—victory in Christ and thus to the relativization, and even the trivialization, of all claims by academics and entertainers to determine what is and is not reality. People need arguments; but they need God’s promises in Christ more.

More on: Luther

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