Hobby Lobby. Contraception. Health care reform. Abortion. The death penalty. Welfare. Wars. Drones. Prayer in schools. Gun control. Gay marriage.
Do I have your attention yet?
Chances are, you have strong opinions about the above topics, which have been at the forefront of public conversation in recent days and months. Is there a “correct” Christian perspective on these issues? Is it possible that well-meaning followers of Jesus can have differing opinions? How should we vote, speak out, or defend our beliefs?
We live in a time of increased polarization within our country and around the world. Republicans and Democrats in the US are being pulled toward their ideological extremes. Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East are engaging in bloody conflicts against each other. Conservative and liberal Christians are separating from each other in congregational life, public discussion, and even geographical location.
When it comes to any of the issues that divide us, I too have my own opinions. I believe some stances are morally appropriate, and others aren’t. But I also believe in a more important truth, one that guides my conversations with people about these issues:
Should Hobby Lobby be required to provide its employees with full insurance coverage for contraceptives? Regardless of whether you say “yes” or “no,” the truth is that it’s complicated.
Should our nation legalize same-sex marriage, or use drones to eliminate enemies in other nations, or pass tighter gun control laws? It’s complicated.
These issues are complicated because they impact different people in different ways. They are complicated because my opinions, wisdom, and experiences on any given topic do not equal the sum total of all people’s opinions, wisdom, and experiences on that topic. They are complicated because life is complicated. The world is not black and white (there are many different shades!); Christianity cannot be boiled down to heaven or hell (there’s so much more to faith than that!); ethical questions do not always have nice, clean answers.
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap [Jesus] in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22 NIV)
Should the ancient Jews pay their required taxes to Caesar, whose Roman Empire occupied their God-given inheritance? Or should they revolt against Rome and trust God for the victory? (Historical note: the Jews tried the latter, and their revolt ended in Rome’s utter destruction of the capital city Jerusalem in AD 70.)
In this passage, Jesus proclaims an astounding truth: the kingdom of God is not the kingdom of this world. And we are to be citizens of God’s kingdom – even while we live as citizens of this world.
In short, life is supposed to be complicated.
So build your opinions about Hobby Lobby and gay marriage and gun control, and be sure your opinions are founded in the truth of scripture. But listen carefully to the opinions of those who disagree with you, especially when their opinions are founded in scripture as well. Listen to the stories of those affected by major current events, and tell your story faithfully also.
And always give to God what is God’s – even your very life – as complicated as that is to do.