US Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage—now what?
As we write this article, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the USA. Most Christians who have been watching the developments in our culture—including the rapid erosion of religious liberties and the increasing persecution of Christians who have the ‘audacity’ to oppose same-sex marriage in public—should not be overly surprised by this, though we still grieve that what the Bible calls an abomination has now become effectively the law of the land in the U.S.
How do we think about this, not just as citizens of countries around the world who are debating a fundamental redefinition of marriage, but as Christians? We must face this with a biblical and historical perspective, and confront the culture with truth and love, and the unchanging standard of Scripture.
How we got here
Fifty years ago, it would have been unthinkable for homosexuality to have the public approval it now enjoys, much less that marriage would be redefined to allow for the solemnification and state recognition of these relationships. But the seeds were already being sown.
America capitulated on marriage long before the homosexual lobby wanted in. A culture with far too many marriages ending in divorce (although evangelical Christians, unlike the stereotypical accusation, have lower rates of divorce), children frequently being conceived outside of marriage, and an increasing preference for cohabitation instead of marriage showed that it lacked real conviction about marriage.
And most Christians were, quite frankly, unprepared for the organized, strategic assault on traditional morality waged by a small number of politically savvy activists. Gay people are such a small proportion of the population (most reputable estimates are around 5 percent, much less than the ten percent myth that is usually paraded as fact) that many simply did not see them as that much of a threat.
But pro-homosexual activists relied heavily on propaganda to advance their point of view. They told us the battle was between love, equality, civil rights, and immutable orientation on the one side, and discrimination, intolerance, and homophobia on the other. And homosexuality was normalized through exposure to a barrage of gay TV characters, news stories presenting gay individuals and couples in a sympathetic way and suppressing the dark side of homosexual culture, university professors who effectively brainwashed young students by abusing their authority in the classroom, and non-stop political pressure.
Coming after the Church
Now hardly a day goes by without a news story about the tolerance mongers coming after those (primarily Christians) who don’t toe the line on same-sex marriage. We’ve seen pastors disinvited from praying at government functions, adoption agencies who won’t service gay couples forced to close, people like Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich or Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran hounded out of their jobs, lawsuits against Christians who have wedding-industry businesses, parents told they don’t have the right to exempt their children from classroom indoctrination, and much more.
CMI warned that gay marriage would be a big stick to beat the church with. That is, it is (or sadly, was) a line-in-the-sand issue, because gay marriage will be the first of many issues that Christians might be forced to accept. And we see this becoming more true all the time. The culture is trying to marginalize and silence those who remain faithful to Scripture on this issue, and many Christians are fearful and intimidated. Some think we should avoid the subject because they are so tired of hearing about it, and others fail to speak up for the truth because they know it will earn them scorn.
Lessons to be learned
Many professing Christians have reacted to this tidal wave of cultural change by changing along with it. Ethicist David Gushee, for instance, has become a vocal voice saying that the Christian church must be inclusive of people who engage in same-sex relationships. ‘Mainline’ liberal denominations have already capitulated en masse to the redefinition of marriage, and evangelicals who remain true to the teaching of Scripture risk being labelled as bigots.
Others have clung to reactionary, trite-sounding slogans such as “Turn or burn!” or “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” While it is true that people who engage in homosexual sin will face judgment, and that the male/female complementarity in marriage is part of the created order which homosexuality rebels against, these slogans do not help to advance a conversation, and they reinforce the stereotype of Christians as people who lack compassion or concern for the broader issues involved.
Rather than capitulating or relying on shallow sloganeering, Christians need to present a loving, but firm and united front in the face of this ruling. First, we express love for people in homosexual relationships. Many of them are friends, family members (even children), and neighbors, and we pray for them to find repentance and salvation in Christ. Our behavior should be so unobjectionable toward them that no reasonable person could find fault (of course, we will not always be dealing with reasonable people).
But we should firmly reject any attempt to redefine marriage, because no human institution has the authority to do so. God created marriage, and so He gets to define it. Jesus pointed out that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’” (Mark 10:6). We cannot offer Caesar his pinch of incense, because to do so would be to deny God in this matter.
This means that Christians may have to be willing to lose some of the privileges and exemptions that we have long enjoyed. For instance, many Christian schools are wondering if they may face losing their federal funding if they do not capitulate on gay marriage. Our response should be faithfulness even at the cost of these benefits, trusting God to more than make up for what is lost. The Christian community should also rally together to support those who face loss for the cause of Christ, particularly individuals and businesses who have made a stand, suffered persecution and loss as a result.
Christian churches, schools, and ministries should do everything in their power to protect themselves from the inevitable attack from homosexual activists. This is due diligence, even recognizing that these attempts may be ruled invalid.
Evangelical churches need to teach their people about this topic, and how to respond with the combination of biblical truth and love regarding homosexuality. Parents, most of all, should teach their children how to think biblically and logically about this issue as there is a tendency to ‘buy in’ to the gay lobby’s emotional sound bites on this issue (e.g. “It’s OK as long as gay couples love each other.”)
The authority of Scripture
Ultimately, the only way we can stand firm on the issue of marriage is to hold on to the authority of Scripture. Historically, and still today in many parts of the world, Christians have faced the confiscation of property, imprisonment, and even death for their identification with Christ. Americans have never imagined ourselves vulnerable to this sort of persecution because our country was founded on Christian principles and those principles for a long time formed the foundation of our culture. Unfortunately, that false sense of security may have helped our ideological opponents win the day.
Building morality on a house of cards
As the dissent in the case points out, redefining marriage, which has existed in essentially the same form for millennia across all cultures, is extremely presumptuous:
The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent. The majority expressly disclaims judicial “caution” and omits even a pretense of humility, openly relying on its desire to remake society according to its own “new insight” into the “nature of injustice.” Ante, at 11, 23. As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?1
Also, there is not much at all to keep this precedent from further redefinitions of marriage:
It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. If “[t]here is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices,” ante, at 13, why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people who, in exercising their autonomy because their children would otherwise “suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,” ante, at 15, why wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to a family of three or more persons raising children? If not having the opportunity to marry “serves to disrespect and subordinate” gay and lesbian couples, why wouldn’t the same “imposition of this disability,” ante, at 22, serve to disrespect and subordinate people who find fulfillment in polyamorous relationships?…
…when asked about a plural marriage union at oral argument, petitioners asserted that a State “doesn’t have such an institution.” Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 2, p. 6. But that is exactly the point: the States at issue here do not have an institution of same-sex marriage, either.2
Christ is not defeated!
Finally, Christians should not take a defeatist attitude toward this issue, but recognize that Christ has already achieved victory over sin and death and the forces of darkness. In the long term, it will not be supporters of same-sex marriage who are on ‘the right side of history’ (as they commonly assert), but those who have trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and who remain faithful to Him in times of trial like this. God did not abandon the faithful Israelites who went into exile, and He has promised not to abandon us either (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). God is still in control, and He still provides for His people. We must trust Him in the days to come.
When Augustine wrote The City of God, he was addressing Christians who equated the Roman Empire with Christianity, and were shaken with the fall of the Empire. He gave them the valuable reminder that the true citizenship of every Christian is not in an earthly country, and that we wait for the ‘city of God’, that is, the New Jerusalem.
God’s agenda has always been the spread of the Gospel, and that has happened in the face of worse persecution than anyone in America has faced. Even though we are rightly distressed that the government has officially embraced an unbiblical stance on this issue, Christians still have hope that the Gospel will transform people even in the midst of a corrupt culture.
A resource to help equip Christians
Our little booklet Gay Marriage: right or wrong? And who decides? has received lots of positive reviews from families who needed information to help deal with this issue, and for its nice tone. It contains some wonderful testimonies of former homosexuals who have been set free from their bondage to sin. We’ve also had several churches order many hundreds of copies to give out to their congregation and in particular their youth, to help them when encountering opposition or arguments to defend gay marriage. If you click on the links to our store you will see substantial discounts for bulk purchases.