How to Successfully Ruin the Image of Christ in America

the next civil rights movement
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Few issues divide our culture more than the topic of gay marriage.  On one side of the divide people see increasing acceptance as an attack on marital institution and evidence of a degrading society, while the other believes itself to champion the latest step in the civil rights movement, and both claim persecution.  In the struggle between these two camps, Christians are deciding which ledge to dive for and many find themselves on the opposite side of the chasm from loved ones.  Not cool.

So, before continuing, please understand that this article is an exercise with certain a priori.  For the sake of argument, sidestep the bulk of the discussion for a moment with me and assume the conviction of one side – that gay marriage is inherently sinful. Even if that were the case, as many claim, a question must still be asked and answered by Christians so inclined. That is,  “how should these Christians vote concerning gay marriage?”

Well, Jesus laid down two powerful rules of practice for his followers, the likes of which should inform the choices of all Christians today; believers are to hold one another accountable to God’s standard and refuse to judge the actions of outsiders.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...
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“If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.  The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day…” John 12:46-49

“Judge not, that you be not judged…” Matthew 7:1

To be a “judge” involves deciding what is, and what is not, appropriate for another (the Greek word is κρινω for all of you nerds). Some other definitions from the Greek Lexicon (which can be found here):

  1. to separate, put asunder, to pick out, select, choose
  2. to approve, esteem, to prefer
  3. to be of opinion, deem, think, to be of opinion
  4. to determine, resolve, decree


*Please notice that “not judging” is not the same as “condoning.” Christians that believe gay marriage is sin do not need to say it isn’t, they simply need to realize that it is expressly not our place to mete out judgment; God takes care of those things (unless, of course, you have a dream about slaughtering thousands under the sign of the cross and believe yourself called to carry forth such a message of sacrificial love with brutal force, then by all means go for it).

When Christians vote against gay marriage, they impose their interpretation of God’s standards upon people that they believe do not know Him.  They judge outsiders.

The usual set of questions that follow such a statement is something like the following:  but what if someone tries to pass a law permitting the consumption of alcohol in kindergartens?  What if they start spiking the juice at post-nap playtime?  Am I suggesting that we refrain from voting against such insanity?

In a word… no.

I am only suggesting that we balk at imposing upon non-believers standards that directly issue out of special revelation.  If the reasoning against imbibing toddlers issued mainly out of Scripture and not medical journals, that might be a different story.

Maybe there is a dichotomy here?  Some Christians see “marriage” defined as God bringing together a man and a woman, mysteriously creating a picture of the Church and Christ.  If those outside of the faith want to redefine marriage in their own terms, these Christians should respond in non-judgment.  If fighting gay marriage, on the other hand, is a conclusion I happen to reach outside of God’s revelation, I’ll act on it as such.


If Christians continue to wage war on gay marriage and stem the tide of social “corruption” by creating theocratic laws that govern the action of non-believers, we will only further the greatest misperception of the Church in this century.  Instead of being labeled “cannibals,” “atheists,” and “traitors,” like the early Christians, the only misinformed label we’ll perpetuate is that of “d-bags.”

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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24 thoughts on “How to Successfully Ruin the Image of Christ in America

  1. This article seems to come from a christian who is living in fear; fear of what the world will say if he takes a stand on an issue which is backed up clearly by the infallible word of Our Lord Jesus. It is spineless christians just like this who have allowed our society to become as corrupt as it is now. It is a christianity with this lack of faith that mocks those who publicly witness for Our Lord in the same way that John the Baptist did; screaming “repent!” to any within earshot. The Bible clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman in Genesis (the verbatim minute by minute account of the events of the actual creation a few thousand years ago). Sure, Adam had no concept of homosexuality, being as he was the only male, but he obviously preferred eve to bestiality. And isn’t bestiality just the next step from homosexuality in the denigration of human morality (for a flow chart showing the denigration of human morality, see my personal New King James Bible)? Thus Genesis makes a strong case against homosexuality by making a rule-via-omission against bestiality (God works in mysterious ways). Look at the marriages of the patriarchs! Clearly marriages between one man and one woman. Then of that same man and another woman. And another woman. Polygamy? NO! These were multiple marriages, each one comprising only ONE man and ONE woman. This is clearly a biblical prohibition on both homosexuality AND divorce.

    As for the New Testament, the whole issue of homosexuality boils down to the issue of sin. What is sin according to Our Lord? Well, when asked what the greatest commandment was, he sarcastically dodges the question by quoting TWO separate passages from scripture(neither of which was in the Ten Commandments so how important can they really be?). Jesus is obviously mocking the question at this point and claiming that ALL the commandments are equally great and that any attempt to sum them up in two short statements would only lead to further corruption. This is clear if we extrapolate the verses Jesus sarcastically references; the Shema (Deut 6:5) and some silly levitical thing (Lev 19:18). The backhanded reference to levitical law is especially biting since Jesus’ whole purpose was to, via his death, render levitical law completely invalid. But I digress. If we simply say that we are to “love God” and “love others”, and that “sin” is anything that breaks one of these two fundamental rules, we loose the ability to judge the homosexuals since consensual sodomy alone is not technically in conflict with them. We also loose our ability to judge a multitude of other sinners and if we do not judge them, how will they be saved? By kind words and genuine love? Just typing that tickled my ears (2 Tim 4:3). Even if jesus had not sent such a strong message with his sardonic answer, Paul, who is merely the typewriter of God, clearly prohibits legalizing consensual homosexual union through any governmental agency. I’m not sure of the reference but those are very nearly his exact words.

    To step out of character and speak honestly for a moment, I do not personally believe homosexuality to be sinful for the reasons I referenced above but, even if it is sinful (and it may be), There is a large difference between civil union and religious union. If we are so judgmental as to withhold the latter from any who genuinely seek it, surely we aren’t so condemnatory that we must also withhold the first which is not “ours” (the church’s) to give in the first place. For the christian voter, civil homosexual union poses no threat unless one still hold onto the silly notion that America is a “Christian Nation”. If one is so blind as to claim that, I’m afraid Fox News has won another victory over common sense.

    My main argument however is that the christian movement aimed at blocking the civil union of homosexuals is a symptom of a polluted gospel. Jesus offered “living water”, but after thousands of years of tradition and fanaticism pissing into the well, the water Christians offer today is less than potable. The modern “good news” is focused on sin and rigid morality as opposed to the original message whose clear focus was redemption and freedom. I am not claiming that the bible offers no moral standard but I believe strongly that the gospel is much much more than morality and that to simply see it is a rule book, as “basic instructions before leaving earth”, is pissing into the well (especially if we add the “leaving earth” eschatology). Moral standards will always be the source of controversy between people groups and people will always claim (as they always have) that God or Gods is/are on their side. The Gospel which Jesus and the early church preached was a message that spoke to morality but was not defined by it; it was instead defined by resurrection and its implications. In considering homosexual marriage from a christian standpoint we must consider which Gospel we are preaching. This decision defines our message.

    1. Mike, I always appreciate your sarcastic approach (especially, in this case, the quip about polygamy). Thank you for responding and offering your insight.

      I wholeheartedly agree that our starting point will determine the outcome. I fear that most American Christians are enslaved by the church/empire delusion and bring this sort of perspective to the question, instead of being defined by the life-giving message you described.

      The “speaking to morality” part, I would ague, is for the believing community itself. On the other hand, it is far out of Christ’s calling for us to determine what non-believers can/can’t do.

      I believe we’re arriving to the same conclusion by slightly different means. Is that right?

    2. You say ” Look at the marriages of the patriarchs! Clearly marriages between one man and one woman.” Perhaps you could expound on Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah? Or Abram, Sarai and Hagar?

  2. Ok, sorry for the world of warcraft post there.

    Anyways, you make a very solid point. You cannot hold those that are not living by christ to a christian standard. It doesn’t work and most time backfires.

    I also understand that as christians we try. Like you made refrence to the crusades, people now a days go on crusades every day. Be it Harry Potter, Mary-J (yes i went there), or gay marriage.

    What it comes down to is do we as christians live a balanced life? Do we slack on our selfs and persecute others with a zealous rage? Do we (to steal allen’s quote) snuff other peoples candles so ours burns brighter?

    I aint going to talk fancy, becuase that isn’t really my style. This gay marriage question is kind of pointless to me. When did being homosexual become worse then cussing and gossiping? Why are we even making a huge fuss about this when there are plenty other things to go after? Greed? Dishonesty?

    **** my mouse died so i cant refrence the original posts as well****

    This whole situation brings me back to the revelation that we as a church do not balance out our focus. Christ preached love at every turn… not acceptance, but love. He went in and laid the smack down on the merchants in the temple, but then turned and honored the tax collecter.

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    but i will finish my thoughts… but it gets deep lol.

    1. I like your thoughts Tommy.

      Oh, how I wish that this was a pointless issue! It’s a shame that it isn’t. If Christians never sold the depth of Christianity out to bracelet companies and, instead, attracted the attention of the public with sacrificial love, selfless community, and a message of redemption, things would be different.

      Sadly, this isn’t the case. All we need to do is watch the news or go to church on Sunday. It’s everywhere.

  3. Great thought-provoking post!

    There must be a middle ground in these arguments.

    I think you are right, and it should be painfully obvious to anyone who is even remotely honest. Those who are outside of Christianity and tend to view Christianity in negative terms, do so because of false reasons. They identify the church with being another wing of the Republican party. The church has let itself be prostituted in this way, by becoming too political. Let’s be clear: Jesus doesn’t have an R after his name (or a D for that matter)

    The Gospel stands outside of politics. You do not have to love George W. Bush to be a Christ follower, and you do not have to register as a Republican either.

    The church needs to get out of politics, but I don’t think Christians need to. We have an obligation to vote as individuals. We have all kinds of moral laws, in fact almost all laws have a moral component. Many are based on the Judeo-Christian world view.

    If the government proposed a law sayng that torturing babies for fun should be legal, we would all rise up against that. It is obviously wrong. But when you think about why is is actually wrong, you get back to this Judeo-Christian world view that has influenced us all.

    I think the church as a denominational entity should get out of politics. It is this that ruins the image of Christ in the States more than anything else, not individual believers voting their conscience.

    Do you think this difference is valid?

  4. Absolutely.

    The Church gets caught up in the polarization of politics too deeply, too often. I think it’s important to participate in the discussion about all sorts of political issues, but surely we can do it in a better way. Creating theocratic laws isn’t the way to go, but we shouldn’t betray the ethics of Christianity either.

    There is a middle ground, the difficulty is in finding it. Maybe the Christian church is better suited to be a prophetic witness than a state-sanctioned judge…

  5. The point as I see it stands at repentance. You can’t legislate repentance. We can’t get rid of the homosexual agenda, the killing of babies or presidential adultery with brute force. To have a Holy nation you need the presence of a Holy God.
    The reason Mr. O’Brien said it was wrong to legislate against gay marriage wasn’t because the law is wrong (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) but because we need to be the salt and light of the world leading it to repentance instead of the judge and jury of the world, imprisoning anyone who stands in our way.

  6. “When Christians vote against, or in favor of, homosexual marriage we impose God’s standards upon people that do not know Him. We judge outsiders.”

    While I appreciate you being willing to take this issue on, and the tone in which you do it, I think you might be forgetting about the thousands of Christian homosexuals worldwide. Your language is ontologically judging and dividing through the assertion that such folks are “outsiders” and that their faith is not real. The assumption that sexual “rightness” is necessary for salvation can scantly be argued from scriptural text. It is my understanding that there are only nine passages in the Bible dealing with homosexuality, and the cultural implications of these issues then are considerably different than now. So before we determine our judgements or non-judgements, I believe we need to take a really in depth look into the a priori.

    1. I absolutely agree with you. I’m just trying to be conversant with Christians who hold the conviction that homosexuality is a sin and attempt to pass laws which deal with gay marriage.

      I don’t think that even the Christians who believe these things think that homosexuals are outsiders- what I meant by “outsider” was “non-Christian.” I think this argument is good for the people who have these presuppositions, but it certainly is important to discuss them as well (that would be a different post :D)!

  7. Hey there Allen – thought I might jump in on this.

    Could this be an issue that is really immersed within the Civil / Church polemic? Like Romans 13 stuff – or Paul’s decision to exercise his rights as a Roman citizen… so on and so on?

    The question here is – if God established the specific government that we currently have over us, and that said government gives “each person” to vote their “conviction” does someone from a Bible based belief system have just as much a right to vote their preference as those of converse conviction who will certainly be voting their desire?

    Instituting theocratic principles within a democracy will never have a lasting footing – those convictions (such as the community that always wants to site the faith of the Founding Fathers) are given just as much weight as the next set of standards – we live in a country that the mob rules. Even though Cali voted – you now have a turn in the tide of even secularism that “to each his own – pursuit of life – love and happiness – has moved to the top of the charts over the intentions of the founding fathers.

    Sorry – a little divergent there. All this to say – I think this is simply more of a exercise in democracy and social / cultural impacts by contemporary subjective beliefs.

    I always say in the area of debate – just be consistent then I will respect you and your opinions – I might not agree – but I can respect a well thought out conviction that is consistent through out and well thought out reasoning and praxis.

    The editor does a comparison of kindergardners and roofies or something like that – how come in this field of reasoning no one can bring something rational as a comparison? (beastiality comp. not withstanding)

    I would say the comparison of assisted suicide would be more relevant. If the reasoning is that “as long as we are consenting adults and we aren’t hurting anyone then who are you to deny my desires?” is much more relevant and the basis for our current topic when I discuss this with others.. One who would argue against assisted suicide would have to hold to a biblical view of the value of human life – whether they recognize it as biblical or not. What right do I have to stop someone from taking another person’s life – if said person desired them to? Are we ready to wrestle with that? Because it all comes down to forced morality or subjective morality.

    Done – too much – need a twinkie and 32 ounce MD.

    hope you are well.

    1. I think you’re right. That is exactly the rabbit hole this runs down.

      And you’re right in asserting that God has instituted this government over us and we have the right to vote our convictions- I’m only suggesting to my fellow brothers and sisters that we might get further in our present cultural context with the testament of our community than with our votes against gay marriage. I’m saying that our convictions as Christians should lead us NOT to vote (something we have the right to do) on certain issues- homosexual marriage being one.

      Good thoughts Jeremy, thank you for jumping in.

  8. I think that much of the reason Christians are hated is because the only “examples” many people see are the ones the media chooses to show. And they are usually the bad ones and in many cases not even Christian. But also because of what you are saying. Too many Christians are engaging in these debates and end up being distracted by politics and end up acting out of the flesh instead of the spirit.

    I would like to ask you about judging. Are you saying we should not judge? I know that is a popular belief but the bible says our JUDGEment should be done fairly and righteously. Not at a glance (John 7:24).

    Personally, I think Christians should avoid politics altogether and focus on the Lord’s business.

    1. I think the “judging” Jesus warns against is forcing non-Christians to obey the special commands he gives.

      I might disagree slightly with the non-involvement your article talks about, but I only do so slightly. I think that we confuse “the Kingdom” with “the nation I live in” and hurt both the witness of the church and the relationships we have with outsiders at the same time. I would still say (as you hint at) that involvement in the government and political conversation can be good.

      I simply think we should function more like prophets and less like judges toward an onlooking world.

  9. Individuals sin and believers are forgiven but when society condones and institutionalizes sin
    that is rebellion. We need to pick a side.

    1. I understand where you are coming from.

      But think about this for a second; most Christians believe it is also a sin to “have other gods” or disbelieve the God of the New Testament. If we need to pick a side over and against a society that condones sin, should we make all other religions and atheism illegal?

      1. A person can be firm and kind , Love the sinner hate the sin. Persuade not Force, We ( the Church) want the best for people, true Joy not temporal happiness.We are seed planters the Spirit will make it grow.We should live our lives as the Ambassadors of Christ we profess to be and not as the world does. Salt and Light, Gracious to others Loving our enimies.

  10. What God allows is not the same as what God establishes. In our nation today it is Christians that are under assault .

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