The problem with going to war is that there is a very real chance you may lose.
It was August 14, 1945 in the United States, but due to the International Date Line, it was already August 15 in Japan. The Japanese Empire was reeling. The United States had just obliterated two major cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the 6th and the 9th using weapons of hitherto unimagined destructive power. In addition, the mighty Red Army of the Soviet Union, flush with victory in the largest and most brutal land campaign in human history, had just occupied the Japanese client state of Manchuria and was poised to invade the home islands.
The Emperor Hirohito, god-king of the Japanese Empire, deciding that his subjects had suffered enough at the hands of the warlords who had hijacked his government in his name, declared over the radio his intentions to surrender to the Allied powers on the basis of the Potsdam Declaration. This was the famous Gyokuon-hōsō, “Jewel Voice Broadcast.” For most Japanese, it was the first time they had ever heard the God-Emperor’s voice, and he was announcing the defeat of Japan and her absolute surrender. The impact of this event on the Japanese psyche cannot be overstated. It was as if Frodo and Sam had been slain by the Nazgul on the slopes of Mount Doom and the One Ring been slipped onto the finger of the Dark Lord. It was as if the body of Christ had been found and paraded through the streets of Jerusalem.
I can imagine that if you were one of the Christian ministries or individual believers who had decided that the maintenance of the definition of marriage to exclude members of the same sex was a hill you needed to die on, or worse, force others to die on, you may have felt something of what the Japanese felt on that August day 68 years ago.
On this issue, at least, we live in a different world than we did just a year ago. First of all, the high profile ministry Exodus International, which sought to administer the Christian faith like a prescription drug to “cure” the contagion of homosexuality, closed its doors after 37 years and issued a controversial apology to those it had harmed during its existence.
Then nine days later, on June 28, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act passed by the United States Congress in 1996 as unconstitutional, thereby short-circuiting any possibility of blocking same-sex marriage legislatively at the Federal level. On the same day, at the end of an arduous 14 day fast by Puerto Rican Christians hoping to block a resolution permitting same-sex marriage in the Puerto Rican legislature, Juan Joaquin Avila died.
I’m not surprised Avila is not as well known as other Latin American Evangelicals such as Luis Palau. Luis Palau is tall, irenic, cosmopolitan and, thanks to a Scots grandfather, fluent in English. He is a well-known figure at international Evangelical gatherings such as Lausanne and the various Urbanas. Juan Joaquin, better known as “Yiye” in the picaresque Spanish of Puerto Rico, was short, pugnacious (a boxer in his youth), and as Puerto Rican as a plate of arroz con gandules. As far as I know, he didn’t speak a word of English and was practically unknown outside the world of Spanish-speaking Evangelicalism.
What he was was an old-school Pentecostal evangelist, holding mass meetings throughout the world wherever Spanish was spoken or where he could get an interpreter. His heyday was during the 1970s and 1980s, where he was able to enter both left-leaning Peru and Pinochet’s Chile and leave behind a number of converts. His message was simple; Jesus is coming. Those who believe in Him and lead a righteous life will be rewarded by a ticket to Heaven at the Rapture. Fornicators, liars, the weak-believing and wavering, and all idolators, by which he meant devout Catholics and probably Orthodox as well, although he never mentioned them, would be Left Behind to face the horrors of the reign of Antichrist and the judgment of God. I heard him at a campaign on the night the Two Towers fell. His message didn’t change an jot or a tittle.
To the end of his days, Yiye Avila used language to describe the destiny of homosexuals that would blanch the skin of anybody to the left of the Westboro Baptist Church. His view of homosexuality was as simple as his eschatology. Homosexuality was sin, and people persist in it because they like it. They like it more than they like living righteous lives going to six or seven church meetings a week as is common among Spanish-speaking Evangelicals. For this reason, they will share the fate of drunkards, heterosexual fornicators, liars, corrupt officials, or idolators. I don’t know whether he knew anything about the etiology of homosexual orientation, but my guess is that those arguments wouldn’t have mattered to him.
My wife was converted in one of his campaigns. May he rest in peace in the light of the Lord.
The irony that he died on the day that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act was not lost on the gay community of Puerto Rico. They took no pains to hide their unabashed delight. Now, I admit that you would almost have to be practically inhuman not to have acted like this. Latin American Evangelicals are much more traditional than their English-speaking counterparts, much less apologetic in their rejection of homosexuality, and Latin American gays have a much harder row to hoe in the larger culture than do gays in English-speaking countries. In a way, Ev. Yiye’s passing is more than metaphorical. It is demographical as well. Younger Evangelicals, both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland, are far less bothered by same-sex marriage than their elders, and this procession of the generational equinox is more significant than anything that occurred in the Supreme Court.
I do not know the final fate of the Puerto Rican bill. The decision of the Supreme Court makes it moot. Puerto Rican gays can marry in Massachusetts and their marriage must be recognized in Puerto Rico. So, on this issue at least, Evangelicals (and Catholics, and Orthodox) are like the Japanese man in the street on August 14, waiting for the conqueror to issue the terms of occupation after the most radical and complete transmutation of values since the conversion of Constantine.
If you will all give me leave, I want to explore what it will mean to us to have lost the so-called Culture War. If you like, think of it as a coda to Mike Spencer’s series on the Coming Evangelical Collapse. I want to do a series, five posts, this being the first. Next week I want to deal with the primary temptation that will beset us in the coming decades as our influence wanes and the culture becomes more actively and joyously non-Christian, and guess what? Nothing bad happens to it! The temptation to accedia, spiritual sloth, will become pandemic. The first gusts of the oncoming gales are already fluttering the flags down at the Evangelical marina.
Then the third week, I would like do a post on “Love In The Ruins.” Anybody with eyes in their head realizes that same-sex marriage is the caboose, not the engine, and that the train is still running. Christian marriage no longer exists in the legislative landscape of the West or in the sacramentology of the larger Church, and I would like to look at what has replaced it. When the most intimate and foundational relationships in the human oeconomy undergo a tidal change, the State is a clumsy instrument to use in an effort to address matters.
After this on the fourth week, I would like to write a post on Pneumatology. I believe that, in comparison to the Orthodox East, the Christian West has a faulty theology of the Holy Spirit (yes, I believe the filioque matters), and this faulty view of the Holy Spirit has hamstruck its efforts to deal with ‘the World’. I doubt if any of you ever become Orthodox as a result of what I write here, but if you ever steal anything from the Christian East to use in your own churches, please consider our Pneumatology.
Finally, I want to end on a note of hope. The straits in which the Church finds herself at this juncture are actually a result of her overwhelming success. I think this is often overlooked in the general tendency to look at twelve year old girls twerking in middle-school gymnasia and declare that everything decent and worthwhile has disappeared from the world and that we have become cordwood for Hell. There is a lot of heavy lifting the Church is going to have do in the following decades, but by God’s grace together I think we can do it, and if so, the latter shall be greater than the former.