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Church and state, same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia. Name any one of these cultural issues and you are bound to stir controversy.
Loud and angry voices arise on both sides.
A politician cautiously states that this is a controversial and divisive matter, and it is for the people to decide. A pastor is tight-lipped, and says that the role of the church is to preach the Gospel, not engage in politics. Denominations and churches release statements instructing their congregations about their stand on the issue.
Perhaps too often, you might hear of a prominent and well-respected Christian leader capitulating on the issue. Entire congregations may be divided or even embrace positions wholly contrary to Scripture.
What should we do?
Around five years ago, I found myself overwhelmed by a massive sense of fear after I had written in to the press in the context of one such controversy.
A law professor had written an opinion piece calling for a review of abortion laws in Singapore, prompting strong opposition from those who supported Singapore’s liberal position on the matter.
My piece carefully avoided stating a clear opposition to abortion, but merely attempted to “clarify” the issues at stake. Yet, immediately after doing so, I felt gripped by a sense of terror that my name was now out in the open, and I had dared to even speak on the matter.
How dare I, a man, speak on a “women’s issue” like abortion?
A gentle whisper
One of the most spectacular displays of God’s power in the Bible is easily Elijah’s calling of fire from heaven, and the defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. However, the great prophet Elijah had to flee for his life and immediately plunged into the depths of fear and depression after the wicked queen, Jezebel, threatened to take his life.
In that moment, rather than offer a rebuke, God gently tended to Elijah’s physical needs.
God spoke with Elijah, not through the mighty elements of wind, earth or fire, but in a gentle whisper setting out His plans for Israel and reminding him that he had reserved a remnant of 7,000 who had not bowed down to Baal. 1 Kings 19:15-18
I’ve learnt that when addressing any controversial cultural issue, it is not only what we say that matters, but how we say it.
I cannot possibly compare myself with Elijah. Yet it gives me comfort that even a mighty prophet of God can experience fear, and even greater comfort that in such moments God tends to our needs and ministers to us in a still, small voice, reminding us of His perfect plan and of the community of saints who will stand with us for the Lord.
I have learnt much since then, through mistakes and missteps, successes as well as failures.
One such lesson is that, when addressing any controversial cultural issue, it is not only what we say that matters, but how we say it.
The Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
Our Lord Jesus Christ not only proclaimed: “I am the Truth”, but also called us to love our neighbours as well as our enemies.
As followers of the One who laid down His life while we were yet sinners, we are called to speak the truth in love.
Proclaim, defend, advocate
Another important thing I learnt was to understand why we believe what we believe, and to be able to explain it.
We exhort both Church and State to their proper purpose and function because we believe that Jesus Christ is not only the head of the Church, but also that all things, including “thrones or powers or rulers or authorities … were created by [Christ] and for [Christ]” Colossians 1:16, and hence the State has a duty to “punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right”. 1 Peter 3:14
We proclaim the sanctity of marriage as between a man and a woman because it reflects the mystical union of Christ and His Church Ephesians 5:22-33, a comprehensive “one flesh” union of heart, soul, mind and strength that is uniquely ordered to bring forth and provide children with a loving family with both a father and a mother.
We defend the right to life of every child in the womb and help women with unsupported pregnancies because we believe that Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh – came down to earth through the womb of a virgin, grew from an embryo till birth and was raised in the loving care of His mother, Mary, as well as earthly adoptive father, Joseph, till adulthood.
We advocate for the rights of patients not to be killed by their own doctors because we believe that every human being is made in the image of God and has dignity no matter how old, sick or disabled they may be, and because we look to the Healer who bled and died so that we may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10
Each one of these cultural issues stems from a broken identity and broken relationships. They reflect a fallen humanity that, in sin, has cut itself off from its source of meaning and purpose: God. Like a branch cut off from a tree, it may not immediately die, but it “will surely die”. Genesis 2:17
For this reason, Jesus Christ came to bring us His ministry of reconciliation through the cross, to reconcile us to God, to one another, and to all of creation, and He entrusts us with His message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Perfect love on the cross
Certainly, the evil one will vigorously resist the Lord’s work, and seek to intimidate and silence the voices of believers everywhere. The spirit of fear may afflict many within the Church.
But, as the Bible teaches in 1 John 4:18, perfect love drives out fear.
The more we rest in the perfect love of Jesus Christ shown to us on the cross, and allow the love of God to overflow into our hearts, the more there can no longer be any room for fear, but only love.
And it is this love that we shall share with a world that is so desperately in need of it.