Same-Sex Marriage and the Supreme Court: What Now for the Church?Monday, October 6, 2014
The Supreme Court has declined to take up appeals from states in which the courts have found same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. This paves the way for same-sex marriage in many, perhaps most, places in the United States. Many Christians may be unaware of how momentous this is, since the denial of cases doesn’t come with quite the shock and awe of a ruling handed down. The effect though is wide-ranging. So what should our response be as the church of Jesus Christ?
There are two responses we should avoid.
The first is the temptation to listen to those who would want to jettison a Christian sexual ethic in order to acclimate to the cultural moment. We have no authority to revise what Jesus has handed down to us. Our vision of marriage is not the equivalent of a church constitution and by-laws, adaptable by a majority vote. Marriage is not simply a cultural or legal practice, but is instead an icon of the union between Christ and his church, embedded in the creation (Eph. 5:22-31). Without a Christian vision of marriage, we have no Christian vision of the gospel.
The second, though, is to respond with a siege mentality. We wring our hands or shake our fists at the cultural moment in a way that also detracts from the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in an era in which marriage is redefined and confused. So did many of our forefathers and foremothers, which is why the Bible is consistently equipping the churches to live in a world of prostitution and adultery and so on. The sexual revolution didn’t start at Woodstock. It is always with us.
We ought to have the confidence of people who have heard a word from God and the compassion of a people who are on a mission with God. The Supreme Court can do many things, but the Supreme Court cannot get Jesus back into his cemetery plot.
Our model here ought to be the best aspects of the pro-life movement. Were there angry people who were anti-abortion who simply wanted the “wedge issue” in order to differentiate themselves from their opponents? I’m sure there were. But the primary thrust of the movement wasn’t about culture wars but cultural persuasion. That was by necessity, since real-life women were making real-life decisions about real-life babies. We don’t demonize them. We speak to them, with an alternative vision of what it means to love and to cherish every human life, in our families and in our laws.
Jesus wasn’t shocked by the Samaritan woman at the well, who had had five husbands and was now living outside of wedlock. He also wasn’t afraid to speak a word of repentance to her conscience. He said to her, “Woman, go get your husband and come here” (Jn. 4:16). Both aspects of that sentence must be part of our witness: an honest assessment of sin and an invitation not just to morality, but to life.
Let’s hold fast to what the gospel reveals about the meaning of marriage and the gospel behind it. Let’s articulate a Christian vision of what marriage should be, and let’s embody that vision in our churches. Let’s love our gay and lesbian neighbors. Let’s move forward with persuasion and with confidence. This is no time for retreat or for resentment. This is a time for mission.