Editorial: Living in the New Day

The SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage is a long-awaited decision for many, including gay and straight Christians who have spent decades advocating for this.  It is a day for thanksgiving.

But one of the lessons of history is that the hardest work comes after a high moment.  We see it, for example, in the life of Jesus when after his baptism (including the descending dove and God speaking) he faced his most severe temptations.  John Wesley used this passage as an example of the need to expect challenge after high moments and to engage ourselves for the long-haul.

We are at such a moment with respect to same-sex marriage in The United States.  We must resist the notion that we can relax and rest, which is the natural feeling after any intense and prolonged struggle.  Instead, like our wisest predecessors, we must recognize that our hardest work lies ahead. I believe such work includes the following things.

First, we must define the new normal with the finest examples of it.  This means putting this new freedom on the top shelf of excellence and virtue.  It means confirming that the need for it was valid.  Nothing silences criticism more than showing that fear and opposition was unfounded and unnecessary. 

Second, we must expect and not be dismayed by an immediate negative response by critics, including various “doomsday” scenarios.  Efforts to regain control (e.g. local legislation) will occur.  This is another reason why continued  vigilance is necessary.  Straight-line accomplishments will be turned to crooked lines by critics, but the line is still a road that can be traveled toward increasing progress.

Third, leaders must lead us into the new day.  Freedom does not have inherent wisdom, it requires devoted and expert guidance.  Leadership is more important than ever, because after a victory, people need pastors more than prophets.  Sheep need shepherds who can lead them to green pastures and still waters.  Visionaries must now become navigators.

Finally, the fruit of the Spirit must characterize life in the new day, just as in the days leading up to it.  Christlikeness exhibited by the formerly vulnerable must not be abandoned, but rather increased.  Outloving those who will still resist is the only way to glorify God in the new normal.

Without these kinds of actions, the ego seizes control, turning those formerly oppressed into a new class of oppressors.  The deformative cycle continues, the only difference being that the cast of characters has changed position on the field.

Returning to Jesus, his journey from baptism (revelation) into temptation (his hardest work) was followed by his missional announcement in Nazareth that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and has anointed me to…”  This is the witness that will turn an initially-sown seed into a harvest that brings an increase of the Kingdom to pass.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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6 Responses to Editorial: Living in the New Day

  1. Tim says:

    Steve – this is not a response to the rightness or wrongness of what the court did or the issue of homosexual practice itself. Instead it’s a discussion of my own dis-ease with the thinking behind the thinking. So I would ask you my friend:

    What is the “real” work and when will the work be done? My personal fear is that it’s getting hard to know because the American church has ever increasingly accepted the primary cultural religious tenet that inclusivism is the highest moral value in life. This is leading some in the church to adopt it as the highest moral value in the church. And yet cultural inclusivism has necessarily as one of it’s foundational tenets that all actions are morally relative, (so no one is qualified to judge anything) and as long as love is the motivation it doesn’t matter what you do. (ridiculously oversimplified I know but you get the point) Are Jesus and inclusivism synonymous? Is inclusivism the indispensable kernel of Jesus teaching? Is the acceptance of practice in any morally ambiguous area of life an indispensable sign of maturing holiness of heart and life? There are those who are clearly portraying Jesus waving a rainbow flag in heaven and cheering? Is that an accurate picture? I am concerned that cultural inclusivism will lead the church to places that Jesus would never take it and yet we won’t see it because some have cast off from long standing (and admittedly oft abused) moorings and adapted our theology and Christology to make sure Jesus is leading our inclusive way. Isn’t the logical conclusion of inclusivism that we should only love the sinner, because we are inherently giving up the right to define sin in any way other than as relativistic? I am worried that if inclusivism becomes our primary hermeneutic, isn’t it historically true that we as individuals and a race have a pretty bad track record of allowing devotion to our hermeneutic to give license to all sorts of self-justifications? Wasn’t that the root of Jesus frustration with the Pharisees of his day and why Gamaliel gave the wise warning in Acts 5, that a group of people who had redefined God for the sake of their hermeneutic may actually “find themselves fighting against God.” Isn’t defending our inclusive hermeneutic the justification for “modern folk” to “re-interpret” the scripture, the traditions, the reasons, and the experiences of those who have gone before to fit our newly “enlightened” hermeneutics. Have we theologically thrown the baby out with the bath water because of past abuses and redefined it as a justice issue? So what is the “real” work? I’m afraid that in this climate of you’re either for me or against me and there is no middle ground on these issues that we are in a vulnerable and dangerous place.

    I look forward to your ever gracious and wise response. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

  2. Donna Bogan says:

    Steve,
    Thanks for the cool, calm voice of reason. I face the complete political spectrum of folks in my Facebook world. Some of those with whom I grew up have changed their opinions on this topic not one whit; My experiences have taken me nearly to the other end of the spectrum. I am pained by the shaming, the verbal abuse, the ignorant scripture-spouting which happens when folks disagree. I have several gay friends, and some gay relatives, and none of them, not one CHOSE that orientation. I would vote for marriage as a move towards stability of our communities; I don’t see what that hurts. May your words be heard!

  3. Laurin Lindsey says:

    Thank you for this well timed caution, it is always true that wining is just the beginning!

  4. Carl says:

    We still have work to do. In many places yet, if a married gay spouse asks to add his or her spouse to be added to his healthcare they can be fired for being gay, thanks for this latest blog. Well said, my brother!

  5. Jeff Blake says:

    So well said Steve. Thank you for being a priest and prophet for all of us.

  6. Franklyn, Paul says:

    Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. Here is the last paragraph of the affirmation.
    Justice Kennedy:
    “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Six Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.”

    Paul

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