I'm beginning to learn that one of the advantages of attaining a certain age is that life starts seeming a bit like a gigantic merry-go-round. More and more of what you see in life, you start to realize, you've actually seen before. King Solomon's observation that "there is nothing new under the sun" starts seeming less like poetry and more like science - once you're over fifty.
One of the first places you notice this phenomenon is in the world of fashion. Young people who, through no fault of their own, have had very little time to gain experience, often embrace "new" fashion trends in clothes and hairstyles that were popular once but have since been forgotten (and regretted when the family gathers around to peruse old photos). The world of fashion, it seems, was recycling before recycling was cool.
But the recycling of fashions doesn't apply only to clothes and hairstyles, but to the realm of ideas as well.
What prompted me to bring this up was this article at Patheos written by a man named Fred Clark who describes himself as "an evangelical Christian". Mr. Clark is exercised over the antics of another man, one Michael Leisner, who apparently also describes himself as an evangelical Christian. Mr. Leisner, through some labyrinth of reasoning that entirely eludes me, arrived at the conclusion that an effective way for him to express his disapproval of gay marriage would be to burn up an entire box of Honey Nut Cheerios and post the video on YouTube.
If you perchance concluded, upon learning of Mr. Leisner's affinity for flaming breakfast cereal, that his views did not warrant your full, additional consideration, well...you would not be Mr. Clark.
Mr. Clark, who describes himself as a "snarky, liberal, tree-hugging, pro-choice, pro-GLBT, peacenik, commie, evolutionist" evangelical, is exceedingly alarmed by Mr. Leisner's culinary faux pas. He takes exception to Mr. Leisner's antics because he feels Mr. Leisner causes the world to associate evangelicals with being anti-gay. Given that Mr. Clark is, in his words, "pro-GLBT", he objects to Mr. Leisner's impact on the "reputation" of evangelicals.
Not content to sit idly by while the breakfast cereals of the world are burning, a young woman named Joanna Schroeder has weighed in with her own disapproval of Mr. Leisner's actions and in support of Mr. Clark's views. Ms. Schroeder admonishes Christians that "it is time for you to speak out against the intolerance and bigotry coming out of your community." Ms. Schroeder's recommendation that Christians publicly censure one another for various idiosyncratic views is based, I suppose, on the rather unlikely notion that public conflict among believers is sure to put the world on the fast track to accepting the tenets of Christianity.
So, to combat the influence of the nefarious Mr. Leisner, Ms. Schroeder and Mr. Clark inexplicably seek to draw yet more attention to Leisner's views. One wonders what has become of Clark and Schroeder's irony detectors.
It is not my purpose, in this note, to address the question of homosexuality. Nor is it my intent to take issue with the stances of Mr. Clark, Ms. Schroeder, or Mr. Leisner regarding same.
But there is an underlying theme, a presupposition that weaves its way through the writings of Mr. Clark and Ms. Schroeder, that I want to take issue with. It is the notion, implicit in the argument being made, that there exists a need for Christianity to ingratiate itself to the world.
In the view of Mr. Clark and Ms. Schroeder, the offensiveness of Mr. Leisner's action is very closely tied to the perceived resentment it engenders in the world toward evangelical Christianity.
But, alas, any seeking after the world's approval is, for Christianity, a fool's errand. At a minimum, it is a seeking to overturn a central theme of the teaching of Christ:
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." - John 15:18-19
The reason for this tension is explained earlier in John's gospel. He observes that "light came into the world, but men loved darkness..." John 3:19
In my youth, I harbored a superstitious view of the world - that most people just didn't understand Christianity, and that if they did, they would embrace it as I had. I did not understand then what I have come to understand now: that some people choose darkness.
It is a forlorn hope for Christians to seek the world's approval. It is a quest doomed to failure according to the very prophecy of Christ. Of course, this doesn't mean we should be knuckle-headed jerks in the way we engage with the world. Indeed, winsomeness is beautiful and right so long as the truth is uncompromised. We should seek to persuade with love, gentleness, and rigor. But we should not be surprised or alarmed if, in the midst of a veritable charm offensive, the result is that Christians are yet despised by the world.
We should, by all means, avoid the age old temptation to measure the effectiveness of our Christian witness by how well it is received by the world.
Light bearers will never be well received by men who love darkness.