How can a Christian in good conscience worship in a church that celebrates Gay Pride? That’s how.
We’re approaching June, Gay Pride Month. Good time to get ahead of a tough topic. It’s tough for while many young evangelicals are returning to older church traditions, that number including some entering the Episcopal church, a tradition that in 2015 amended its canons regulating marriage, permitting same-sex marriage. It celebrates Gay Pride Month.
This troubles many conservative Christians. They rightly ask how any Christian in good conscience can worship in a church that celebrates Gay Pride.
Good question. I raised this question with a good friend, a mentor. He’s conservative, ordained in the Episcopal church. He took me to the story of Naaman (II Kings 5). Here’s my recap of the story.
Naaman was a Syrian who served the pagan king of Syria, a country that routinely raided Israel, capturing Israelites to serve as slaves. One of those slaves was a young girl who happened to become a servant to Naaman’s wife. This proved providential, as one day Naaman became afflicted with a grievous skin disease. The young girl suggested to Naaman’s wife that Naaman ought to meet a prophet in Samaria. He’d heal Naaman.
Naaman’s wife told her husband who told the king of Syria who told Naaman to Go! For good measure the king wrote a letter of introduction to the king of Israel. For good measure Naaman brought along gifts of silver, gold, and clothing.
But this made the king of Israel suspicious. Is the king of Syria setting me up for some sort of raid? I can’t heal anyone. But the king had heard that the prophet Elisha could. He sent Naaman to him. When Naaman arrived, Elisha didn’t meet him. His servant did. He told him to immerse himself seven times in the Jordan River. He’d be healed.
Naaman was indignant. A lowly servant telling a man of my high stature what to do? And the River Jordan? It’s filthy compared to our rivers in Syria. Naaman stomped off, mad as hell.
Fortunately, Naaman’s servant intervened. He urged Naaman to swallow his pride and do as the servant said. So Naaman did. He immersed himself in the Jordan seven times. His skin was healed; like the skin of a little baby.
Naaman was humbled. He came to faith, offering Elisha the gifts of silver, gold, and clothing. No thank you, Elisha said, I’ll take nothing. Fair enough said Naaman. But he asked if he could take some soil back to Syria so that he could worship on soil from Israel. Naaman didn’t want to worship any god other than the God of Israel. Elisha granted his request.
Then Naaman made an odd request. He asked for future forgiveness for his role as the Syrian king’s servant. In this role, Naaman physically supported the king when he bowed to pagan idols. Naaman bowed with him, supporting his weight, in effect worshipping a Syrian idol. He asked that Elisha “see to it that God forgive me for this.”
Naaman didn’t need forgiveness. “Everything will be all right,” Elisha said. “Go in peace.”
Everything will be all right? Yes. Elisha recognized an idol is nothing. So did the Apostle Paul. Many in the church in Corinth didn’t however. They felt meat sacrificed to idols defiled them. Paul said no, the problem was their weak conscience. For Christians with a strong conscience, “an idol is nothing” (I Cor.8:4). Elisha wanted Naaman to be a man of good conscience, recognizing that in bowing down with the king, he was bowing down to… nothing. It won’t defile him. It’s not sin.
That’s why Elisha adds, Go in peace. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, our word flourishing. Elisha is telling Naaman to go, serve, seek Syria’s flourishing. Naamar must have thought, seek the flourishing of Syria? Ya gotta be kidding… it’s an idolatrous nation.
But God wasn’t kidding. This is reminiscent of God’s command through the prophet Jeremiah to the Judeans in exile in Babylon: seek Babylon’s flourishing. The Judeans must have thought, seek the flourishing of Babylon? Ya gotta be kidding. The Babylonian army had razed the temple in Jerusalem, tore Judean children to pieces and raped Judean wives. And Judah was supposed to seek Babylon’s flourishing? Yes. The sons of Judah took God seriously. They served King Nebuchadnezzar, hoping he’d eventually “come to his senses” (Dan.4:34), a phrase denoting how his conscience eventually convicted him. It worked. He did.
Christians of good conscience can worship with those who worship idols. They recognize an idol is nothing. This is how my friend sees his work in the Episcopal Church. It has good bones, a subject I addressed a few years ago. These good bones—traditions, sacraments, faith formation—date back as far as the third century AD. Even with its ebbs and flows (common to all faith traditions) Anglicanism has held to an orthodox view of the gospel for most of her history.
It’s only recently that she’s gone astray, worshipping an idol: Gay Pride. But an idol is nothing. Like the father who waited and prayed for his prodigal son to come to his senses, there are orthodox Christians who feel called to worship in the Episcopal Church, waiting and praying that she will come to her senses.
And let’s not kid ourselves. Conservative Christians have their own idols, most of whom they’re as blind to as are our liberal brothers and sisters in their idolatry of Gay Pride. Idols are Equal Opportunity Blinders.
At the end of the day, this issue seems to boil down to calling and the strength of one’s conscience. My aim is to widen our imagination a bit, recognizing how a healthy conscience widens the range of traditions where Christians can indeed worship.