As many of you did, I watched the breaking news coverage of the Supreme Court’s ruling on legalizing gay marriage. If you missed it live, I’m sure you were soon bombarded with social media outbursts from both sides of the debate. At least for one news cycle, it bumped the Confederate Flag from the most-trending item on both Facebook and Twitter.
To be honest, the Court’s ruling didn’t surprise me. Nor did it dishearten or discourage me.
Anyone who thinks gay marriage and the surrounding issues is just a passing fad has missed the larger cultural shift that began in the 1960s. Gay marriage is a symptom of this shift, and it’s important for people of faith to not miss the larger issues involved.
Our cultural has shifted — dramatically — to moral relativism. Up until modern times, most people generally subscribed to the idea that a certain baseline of morality existed and this morality was established by an authority outside of themselves. For people of faith (and I will include not only Christians in that, but also our Muslim and Jewish friends), that authority was divine and absolute. The moral consensus we once shared as a society is fading fast.
You might not like that reality, but you must acknowledge it is happening. You don’t have to live your life that way, but you have to recognize others do. This is especially true of those of us who take seriously our task of sharing the gospel with others.
To the immediate issue of marriage definition, let me say this: the government often issues definitions of ideas and values that I do not agree with. The Supreme Court gave a legal definition of marriage. That legal definition does not change my understanding of God’s definition. I believe, as I always have, that divine marriage is between a man and a woman. In other words, a marriage that God recognizes and sanctifies is between a man and a woman. Jesus himself recognized this definition (Matthew 19:4-6).
Our government has chosen to recognize and legalize same-sex marriage. I can acknowledge that legal reality and still respectfully disagree when it comes to a theological understanding of marriage.
Our first century Christian ancestors lived in a culture much more hostile to Judeo-Christian morals than we do. While Jesus and the apostles were clear and specific in regards to the morals and ethics of Christ-followers, there is no call in the New Testament to overthrow the Roman Empire or lobby for amendments to the Roman Constitution (I think we all know how well that would have gone over).
In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus often repeats this phrase: “You have heard it said … but I tell you.” For example, “You have heard it said, ‘Don’t commit murder … But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
This is where the law draws the boundary — don’t kill anyone. But for the person who follows Jesus, the legal definition of what is acceptable gives way to a definition found in the heart. Can those two boundaries co-exist? They always have.
Many sincere people are worried about churches and religious institutions losing their tax exempt status. Honestly, the tax exempt status of churches and religious entities is a relatively modern idea (see this PDF for more details: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/tehistory.pdf). It is also a very American idea. It is not a biblical mandate for the church to have tax exempt status.
It is a sad statement about the level of stewardship and generosity in the American church if people only give to their churches for tax benefits.
I can recognize the right of same-sex couples to get a marriage certificate and enjoy all the legal benefits of being married. At the same time, I would want them to respect my religious right to not perform a gay marriage. If it comes, as some are predicting, that refusing to perform same-sex marriages will cost churches their tax exempt status — I’m ok with losing our tax exempt status. (More on this later in another post).
But for me, one of the larger issues for the church is how we will respond now and in the days to come. I am a Christian and a pastor because I believe everyone matters to God even if he doesn’t matter to them. I want as many people as possible to have a relationship with Jesus.
Some of the Christian rhetoric I have seen on Facebook and Twitter is appalling to me. First of all, 140 characters on Twitter is an awful way to express your theology. Instead of enlightening, it often insults and inflames. Both sides are doing it. But I most concerned with those who are supposedly speaking from my side of the issue.
Many proponents of same-sex marriage are using this opportunity to further portray Christians as hateful, bigoted people. I’m afraid many of the non-religious people in the middle will buy into this portrayal and become unneedingly closed to our message. Just as the televangelist scandals of the 1980’s and 90’s created the perception that all clergy were greedy and had air-conditioned dog houses, this moment in our history may create another perception that will be hard to shake.
I’m praying for a Christ-centered, God-honoring response that takes into account the big picture and not just a political battle. I’m not out to win a political trophy but to win people to the message of Jesus.
Will that be messy? Sure it will be. Will some people still call me bigoted for holding to a theological definition of marriage? Yes. Will a few of my Christian friends call me soft for not being more condemning? Of course. Such is life.
May God grant you wisdom in your own journey to understand him better and to effectively navigate the times.