In military tradition, before air warfare truly dominated the scene, ground battles were won and lost on hillsides. Approach a hill properly, and your chances of victory increased. Approach a heavily fortified hill with error, and mass casualties ensued. This is the origin, presumably, of the phrase I’m not gonna die on that hill. Many things in our lives revolve around this phrase, whether we speak it vocally or not. We choose as parents what hills we will die upon with our kids and discipline. We choose as family members what hills we will die upon in terms of family relationships and issues. We choose as community members what hills we will die upon in terms of politics and policy.
In the church, we also have hills. There is the hill of what you believe about the Bible; is it infallible (which means not only without error but also incapable of error) or is it inerrant (which means as a general text it is without error) or a combination of both? We have the hill of the Lord’s Supper/Communion – do all believers take it or just members of the local church that is administering it (commonly called open vs. closed communion). There are minor hills of worship style, separate worship for teens or not, what translation of the Bible to use, etc…
In the recent weeks, one of the biggest hills of our time today came to the forefront in the World Vision controversy. When WV announced they would modify their hiring practices to include the hiring of legally married LGBT persons, the response was twofold. Many came out in support and admiration of the decision, while others (commonly identified as the “evangelical” community) rejected and cried out against the decision. Their rejection was so vehement, that many coupled their outwardly vocal displeasure with action – action that resulted in WV losing somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 sponsors for children and communities, depending upon which account you read. Richard Stearns, head of WV, has been quoted as saying he believes the number of children affected is close to 10,000. After WV reversed the decision nearly 48 hours later, “many” of those came back to pick up their sponsorships or start new ones, though we do not know today how many sponsors that consists of.
In essence, what the evangelical community stated with this pushback against WV is that the acknowledgement of married LGBT persons is a hill to die on for them. It apparently doesn’t matter that WV already hired single, non-married LGBT persons. It apparently doesn’t matter that WV is an organization that doesn’t represent merely one denomination but a multitude of them (including the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and others who DO support LGBT marriage). What mattered is that issue of marriage among LGBT persons, and that was the straw big enough to break the proverbial camel’s back.
I have purposely waited for a long time to issue my final thoughts on this, so here goes – an evangelical person is defined by the following (although as with all things, there are variations here or there depending on whom you read): the Bible is authoritative and absolute truth; the cross of Jesus Christ and His resurrection are necessary for sinners to be reconciled to God; sinners need to be converted from death to life by virtue of acknowledgment of Christ as Savior and Lord through repentance and being born again by the Holy Spirit; this repentance and rebirth results in a life where the grace and mercy of Jesus is worked out through our lives in every facet of them. I sit here today, typing this as an “evangelical”, according to the words above. Yet I am not ready to die on the hill of LGBT marriage, nor am I ready to willingly keep or advocate that others keep resources from persons who need them due to that hill. If you, as a Christian, cannot in good conscience continue to support WV that is certainly your right. But there is a right way to do it, particularly when children and communities are involved. You can let WV know of your plans and give them 3 months to locate new sponsorship for your child. No one benefits from a super-emotionally charged “I QUIT!”
I firmly stand on the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. I base this predominately on one thing – when asked about marriage, Jesus always referred to this singular model of marriage. Not polygamy, not bigamy, not anything else but one man and one woman. Of course, the argument can be made that LGBT “marriages” didn’t exist in His day like they do in ours, but that argument is always a slippery slope when talking about any topic. Many things did not exist in Jesus’ day that we have today, but that does not lessen the truth of what He said. Yet Jesus also talked at length about loving sinners, and doing good, and being salt and light, and a whole host of other qualities those who followed Him should have, and in my opinion, I didn’t see a whole lot of that in the negative response to WV. Again, not saying people did not have the right to stop supporting children through WV as a matter of conscience, but the way it happened had very little to do with public love, grace, and mercy. Although I stand on the one man and one woman side of marriage, I am not ready to die on the hill of LGBT marriage for 2 reasons: 1) I do not expect our government to legislate based on my personal beliefs-I may “wish” they would, but I do not expect them to, so when they don’t I don’t get all worked up over it for I didn’t expect it in the first place. 2) Matthew 23 weighs heavy on my heart. Jesus calls out all kinds of “woes” for the religious leaders of His day, who were living hypocritical lives. In verse 13 Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.” In the Message version, it’s put simply this way – “Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom.”
I shut the door to the kingdom of heaven when I die on hills. I shut the door to the kingdom of heaven when I use children as pawns in a theological game. I shut the door to heaven when I point out the speck in other’s eyes while ignoring the log in my own. I shut the door to heaven when I demand my theological way. ”But what about their sin?!?!” you may cry out. ”What about them needing to know the truth?!?!” Jesus said in John 16, verse 8 and following, “When He comes (the Holy Spirit), he’ll expose the error of the godless’ world view of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.” (The Message)
I can’t be a roadblock to the kingdom – I need to be an on-ramp to it when the Spirit does His work…and that’s why this can’t be a hill I personally die on.