Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

Missiles, Chameleons, and the Light of the World (Jul-Aug 1997)

Filed under: — @ 10:48 pm and

by Mike Cope
July – August, 1997

This spring several churches in Abilene were buzzing with concern over a controversial television program. “What is Highland going to do about Ellen?” a woman asked my wife. Without meaning to insult her question, Diane immediately replied, “Not watch it.” Since we have church activities on Wednesday evening, that was a fairly safe response!

Ellen DeGeneres had just recently come out of the closet. Then, Ellen Morgan, her television character, did the same. As a result, e-mails, faxes and petitions were flying around Abilene churches. “If you want to help save this country, write me,” pleaded one concerned Christian in the newspaper.

The torrid concern and activity led me (again) tho these three observations about many Christians and the world.

First, Christians tend to become passionate about issues that cost them nothing.

A church in Canada has asked its members not to vacation in Florida because of the way Cuban immigrants have been treated. The members are being asked – as a statement of social justice – to travel to Cuba instead.

Now there’s a bold moral stand! What does this cost them? Nothing! Church members can still take their nice vacation and will probably get more for the same amount of money in the process. That seems easier to me than asking them to make a social statement by caring for the homeless and poor around them. That’s a bit more costly.

Likewise, taking a strong moral stand against that episode of “Ellen” in a conservative southern city didn’t require a lot of moral fortitude on anyone’s part. At least it wasn’t as costly as, say, getting close to people who are tortured by their sexual identities, by listening to them and loving them.

Now that would be courageous! Is the church up to the task? It’s much easier and less costly to sit back and condemn.

Second, Christians tend to become passionate about issues that tempt them least.

I wonder where the moral outrage would be if Ellen had come out as a racist or a liar or a gossip or a person filled with bitterness or lust or greed. Or imagine a prime time television character finally admitting her lack of concern for the poor. Surely the church would then protest and picket!

Have you noticed that those who will take the time to get to know someone who struggles with their sexual identity tend to quickly get off the crusade bandwagon? While holding to their biblical convictions about sexual ethics (sexual relations in a marriage between a husband and wife or celibacy), they no longer demonize “the gays.” Instead, their first impulse is to hurt with those who can’t figure out who they are and with those who teeter-totter on the brink of suicide.

Third, Christians tend to become passionate about preserving their own purity by policing the world.

Growing up, i heard constant emphasis on how women ought to dress so men wouldn’t lust. Have you ever noticed this isn’t a huge concern to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? He just tells his followers, male and female, to control their lust. The way to deal with lust isn’t to scold the world for the way it dresses, but to deal with our own thought processes. What should we do with a woman who is scantily clad? Invite her to church! (Men, it helps my case if you don’t “amen” at this point!)

Christians need to realize that the hope for the world isn’t how “Christian” the government is, how wise the Supreme Court is, how daring the Legislature is or how moral Hollywood is. Rather, our hope is in the kingdom of God that has broken into this world thorugh the ministry of Jesus Christ! The world is going to act like the world. Our job isn’t to constantly scold it or to try to hide from it, but to live redeemed lives right in the midst of it.

Paul knew that the church would always find it easier to attack the morality of the world than to deal with its own sins. But his perspective is clear: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12f).

So what can our churches do in response to this Ellen episode – and other episodes that will undoubtedly follow on other shows this fall? Just continue to be the church. Ellen DeGeneres isn’t the enemy! (My guess is that calling her Ellen DeGenerate, as one popular fundamentalist minister did, doesn’t really inch her any closer to Christianity.)

The challenge constantly before the church is to be “in the world, but not of the world.” We are not the scud missiles of the world, sent to wage a culture war, launching deadly verbal missiles. Nor are we chameleons of the world, free to take on every value and behavior that’s around us. Rather, we are the light of the world – God’s counterculture living out the values of the kingdom in the midst of darkness. It is our task to pray for the people of our world, live holy lives among them, and gently point them to the Father who has delivered us in Jesus Christ.Wineskins Magazine

Mike Cope

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