President Obama spoke of many things in his State of the Union message; his take on events and priorities, foreign and domestic, is very different than any conservatives would give them.
For example, he claims all Americans are “bound by a common creed,” yet he never defines it. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence explains what that creed is – that there is a God, that He created everyone equal in value and dignity, and that He is the author of our rights.
We by no means all share this creed. Many leading intellectuals, public and academic, as well as many political leaders and culture-shapers, consciously and vocally reject it, either overtly or through redefining elements of it. Many Americans are oblivious even to what our founding premises are, and perhaps especially among younger Americans, there is a deep suspicion of any assertion of absolute truth or knowledge of the divine.
Yet more than this or anything else Mr. Obama said, there was another passage in the speech that sparked not just disagreement but sadness. It was this:
“It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”
It is reasonable to assume that, based on his own change of mind, the President was referring to Christian teaching on homosexuality. And herein lies the pain comment provokes: It shows a profound misunderstanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel proclaims that God loves us even as He cannot but exercise eternal punishment for our sins. Thus, His Son became a man to pay the penalty we deserve in dying on the cross. Good news, grounded in grim truth (our deserved judgment) and immeasurable love (that of a personal God for those made in His image and likeness).
Understanding these truths and imitating their model, the first impulse of any faithful Christian father would be to embrace a son who “came out,” not reject him. A Christian Dad would affirm his love for his son regardless of the young man’s attraction to the same sex and assure him that his love is not conditional.
The President’s assumption that somehow Christian teaching discourages such love demonstrates how deep Mr. Obama’s stereotypes of biblically orthodox Christians must be.
Mr. Obama seems to pit fidelity to Christian moral demands against the love of a father for his son. This is a massive misrepresentation of Scripture’s teaching.
The Bible teaches unconditional love. It also teaches unqualified allegiance to the God it describes. That God tells us that the only sexually intimate behavior He sanctions exists within the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life. Thus, a loving father would not approve of his son’s sexual choices if, be they heterosexual or homosexual, they run counter to the revealed will of a Heavenly Father Whose commands are designed for our good, not our misery.
The son who identifies as gay might resent his father’s continued belief that “everything he’s been taught,” as long as it aligns with the Bible’s teaching, still applies and that, therefore, the father cannot countenance any behavior at odds with that teaching. Yet there is no love in affirming something God declares wrong and harmful, whether it relates to human sexuality or thievery or malice or deception or anything.
As the father of sons, were one of them to tell me he is gay, I would love him all the more. I would never affirm certain choices he might make, however, because I love him enough to tell him the life-giving truth of God’s Word, graciously but without compromise. If he were to walk away from me in anger, I would call him back. Were he not to return, I would mourn more than words can express.
The desperation of Christian parents whose children are wrestling with or have surrendered to same-sex attraction would be deeper than words can capture. It is understandable that out of compassion and a longing for their sons and daughters they would affirm their children’s relationships and even marriages.
It would sustain, unbroken, the chain of parent-child affection and prevent relational alienation. But are not love and truth so entwined that any attempt to disentwine them results in their mutual fraying? Truth without love is mere severity. Love without truth is mere emotion. One without the other disintegrates into meaninglessness.
To be attracted to the same gender and know that, in fidelity to God, you can never fulfill that attraction sexually would be so very wrenching. That kind of pain extends to single heterosexuals who, without a married partner, are called to the same celibacy and chastity as someone drawn to his or her same sex.
This does not mean the absence of intimate friendships but, instead, the constraint of sexual partnership. This is hard, but Jesus calls His disciples to die to themselves and follow Him. But even when the journey is so difficult as to seem impossible to complete, Christ promises that “His grace is sufficient” for us, and that His “power is perfected in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). There is never a time when He leaves us without His help and His hope, the assurance of His presence and of renewed fellowship when, having failed, we turn back to Him.
Jesus also calls His disciples to compassion and community, to empathy and mutual prayer. Christians attracted to the same gender must be drawn into these with the fullness of Christian love. And all Christians must call one another to obedience to their Lord in whatever areas they struggle to submit to Him.
This is the nature of the Body of Christ. It is the definition of discipleship. It is how Christian fathers engage their sons, always.