I type these words within just a few hours of the Supreme Court’s announcement regarding the legality and recognition of gay marriage in all 50 states. And I find it pastorally necessary to write for my congregation a few lines of what, I hope, are wise and biblical thoughts on this subject. I share them here, also, for anyone else who may benefit.
Preliminarily, let me say that this article is not intended to re-state the biblical case for monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. The facts of that case are quite clear to most who will read this article, and can be readily researched by those who would like more clarity on the Bible’s sexual ethic. And I must also say that I will not attempt, in the lines that follow, to discuss the political or constitutional issues that surround this decision and/or how it was arrived at. I honestly don’t know enough about these questions to offer an educated analysis.
But what I would like to do is offer some brief pastoral thoughts about what we are to think and do in these days, and how we ought to go forward in faith. And I’ll draw them around four headings …
1. God reigns. My Bible teaches me that whatever comes to pass is of the Lord. It is He who makes men blind or seeing, deaf or hearing (Exodus 4:11). It is He who has “determined [our] appointed times and the boundaries of [our] habitation” (Acts 17:26). It is He who holds kings hearts in His hand, and can change their course any time He wishes (Proverbs 21:1). And it is He who controls even the casting of a lot, or the falling of a sparrow. And so, while I know that participation in and approval of homosexual behavior contradicts His moral precepts (Romans 1:18-32), I also know that nothing happens that is beyond His sovereign control – this decision regarding gay marriage included. God still reigns. And He knows what He is doing, even when He permits sin to prevail. We must believe that in these days. The world hasn’t spun out of control because of this (or any other) decision made in Washington. God reigns.
2. Suffering may be ahead. I am well aware that, with these new laws in place, men like myself (and many other Christians whose work intersects with marriage and weddings) might be tested in the near future. What if a gay couple asks me to perform a wedding? I won’t be able to do it – not out of fear, or hatred, or a desire to discriminate – but simply as a matter of conscience. And what happens then? Many gay couples, I am sure, would respect that decision completely. But what if one couple doesn’t? And what if they seek legal redress? And what if the courts tell me that I must either perform a gay marriage, or suffer the consequences of the law? I will choose to suffer – I hope with the same kindness and grace as many of our forefathers who have suffered for faith and conscience. How real is this whole possibility? I do not know. But let us be prepared, brothers and sisters. Long have we avoided the difficulty that our brothers and sisters face in many parts of the world. But it is to be hoped that, when our time comes, we will receive our lashes with peace and patience, rather than with belligerent claims about our rights.
3. Our nation’s morality has not changed overnight. Yes, this decision by the Supreme Court creates a sea-change in terms of legal issues. But it is not as though these things are being forced on a populous in which only a minority support gay marriage. Whatever you think about the fact that it only takes 5 out of 9 unelected justices to make such a sweeping change to the law, the reality is that the percentage of justices on the side of gay marriage approximates to the percentage of the general populace who was already on the same side (according to a recent CBS poll). Now hear me well: I am not saying that majority opinion determines what is right. But what I am saying is that, before the Supreme Court ever made its decision, the horse was already out of the barn. The Supreme Court didn’t open the gates! It simply followed the horse! Which means that, whatever the justices had decided, we’d still have a significant gospel challenge and opportunity before us in these days!
And it is an opportunity! Because, the more Western culture distances itself from its culturally Christian past, the more difficult it is for people to be merely culturally Christian (i.e., to be believers in name only). Now to be sure, fewer cultural Christians makes for societal challenges. But such a situation also makes the distinctiveness of the gospel stand out in all the bolder relief … which makes it easier (on a human level) for us to make real disciples, and not just cultural church-goers. And so the church may actually benefit from these changes, in the long run – with evangelism becoming much more black and white. And that is an opportunity that we should be thankful for, even if the decision itself is morally aberrant, and culturally painful. In the hopeful words of John Wesley, upon his arrival to preach in a particularly degraded village, “This place is ripe for Him who said, ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’”
4. The gospel of Jesus Christ is our hope. I have no idea of what will happen next, in the legal and political realm. I suspect there will be pushback from political conservatives. I suspect that it will not win the day. And I suspect that the decision of the Supreme Court will be with us into the foreseeable future. The again, maybe things will play out differently than I imagine. But either way, I will not be too alarmed. Because my hope for myself, and my family, and our church, and my neighbors (gay and straight) is not in the laws of the land. For the laws of the land do not have power to change anyone's heart toward God! And so, even in the unlikely event of a reversal of these recent change, people on both sides of the divide would be just as spiritually lost as before. And so our hope must not be in the law, or the judges, or the political process! Our hope must be in Christ, and in His gospel. And not in the gospel as a pragmatic tool to help us ‘get our nation back.’ It’s not our nation, but God’s. And the goal of the gospel isn’t to create a cultural majority that enables Christians to live comfortably … but to bring individuals back to God for His own glory! And we mustn’t forget these things with all the nationalistic rhetoric swirling around us (and perhaps arising in our own souls)! The law doesn’t change hearts; the gospel does! And the gospel is not about restoring America to its former glory; but about bringing God glory through the salvation of individuals from their sin and His wrath!
And so I say again that our hope is in the gospel of Jesus – in the good news of His sinless life, His substitutionary death, and His resurrection on behalf of sinners – whether their sins be fornication, adultery, homosexuality, gossip, short-temperedness, pride, or whatever! People come to fullness, and to forgiveness, and to Christ-likeness, and to eternal life, and to God, only through Jesus! And the laws of the land have never effected that – neither in days gone by when they were based largely on biblical values, nor today as they change. And so let the gospel be our great theme, and our great peace, and our great commission in the days ahead! Some things may change for us, to be sure. But the main things are still the main things. We still need to love and respect and serve our neighbors (gay and straight) for Jesus’ sake. We still need to share with them the same message of Christ that has been preached for all these centuries up until June 26, 2015. And we still need to believe that this simple message of Jesus “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
I recently listened to a talk by Iain Murray on the mission work of John Geddie and John Paton in what is now Vanuatu – a place that was described by those who visited there as Romans chapter 1 come into its full, rotten fruition. And yet, by the preaching of the gospel, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of cannibals came to Christ! And if the gospel worked there, where our human depravity had fuller reign than our own nation has yet known, then surely the gospel will be “the power of God for salvation” in our own day!
And, before I close, let me remind you that we still need this gospel of salvation in Jesus for ourselves just as much as for our neighbors. Indeed, it would be a grave mistake to allow the current degeneration of sexual ethics all around us to serve as an excuse to get on our moral high horses and to pray like the Pharisee who was so proud of how he was “not like other people.” Yes, heterosexual, monogamous marriage is the only sexual ethic for which the Bible allows. But the ethic is not our hope! For “we all stumble in many ways” – even if not in this particular one. And we all need a Savior, Jesus. And He is the only hope – both for our sinful selves, and for the mass of humanity around us who sin in different ways than we might, but who still need Christ.
In the days ahead, let us speak, and act, and love, and hope like we really believe that.