Like most people this morning I spent a little time reading about the United States Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. For those of us in Christian leadership the decision really wasn’t a surprise, so now the question is how do we both in leadership and in the body respond to gay marriage being legal in all 50 states?
It is clear that marriage in America has become a simple civil contract under the law and that is an important point that Christians need to think about. The argument that everyone needs to be treated equally under the law according to the 14th Amendment is sound and applies to marriage so long as marriage is just a contract between two people and nothing more. This, in my opinion, is what the Court is saying.
As Christians, however, we believe marriage is more than a contract between two people; it is a covenant between three – you, your spouse, and God with God being the center of it. We believe there is supernatural mystery in this covenant that makes two one flesh and that this covenant, like any covenant with God, is sacred. This is why some Christians have responded so viscerally to gay marriage believing it undercuts the sanctity of God’s covenant.
The Apostle Paul says something incredibly salient to this debate in 1 Corinthians 5:9-12. In the context of dealing with someone inside the church who fell to sexual immorality, Paul says,
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[a] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”(Emphasis added)
Paul is telling us that our concern is not with what people outside the church do; don’t judge them, because they’re not living by the same truth as we are.
I want to go a step further and explain that there is no way for those outside the church to even know the truth of God because they are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the same way you could not know the truth of God until you were indwelt. How can they know the truth when scripture tells us that Satan is blinding them to it? That’s why Paul tells us not to judge them.
This is vitally important for us as we decide how to react to gay marriage being the law of the land. We are not in the time of the prophets where God sent prophets to His people to tell them to turn back to Him or they would suffer consequences. This is the time of Jesus who died for the sins of the world and tells us that people will know that we are his disciples by the way we love one another and that all the laws and prophets will fall under love.
Does that mean we embrace gay marriage as Godly? In Paul’s words, “Certainly not.” Marriage was not created by man it was created by God and belongs to God so as Christians we need to stay true to that understanding.
But like Paul, what business is it of mine what people outside the church do? My marriage covenant between my wife, myself and God is in no way threatened by two people being joined in a civil contract so they can have the same tax breaks and health insurance as other married people. My marriage is based on God’s plan for my wife and I that goes so far beyond just the two of us loving one another and nothing “Caesar” does can change that.
The hard part about all this is for we Christians is for more than 200 years we have been the dominate culture in America and now we are not. Since Roe vs. Wade in 1973 there have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000,000 children killed primarily as birth control by people who thought they were responsible enough for sex but not “ready” for a child. Biblical standards such as no premarital sex; not drinking unto drunkenness (or doing drugs to the same effect); and avoiding sin have become passé. Christians are not seen as loving people who are role models in our society; they are considered intolerant and small-minded people to be ridiculed and marginalized.
But do you really think it was any different in Jesus’ day or when Paul was traveling the pagan world sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ? Jesus preached love and they crucified Him for it. Paul taught salvation through grace by faith in Jesus and he was jailed, beaten, stoned, and eventually beheaded. Being a Christian is not for sissies!
Things in America are changing for Christians and it’s certainly not comfortable, especially for those of us who are middle-aged or older. We disagree with the moral direction society is heading, and we disagree with those in our own body who embrace those directions which conflict with Biblical norms. But the one thing we must never fail to do is love. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 no matter how great our gifts and faith without love we are nothing. By loving, Jesus, Paul and the rest of the apostles and the early church changed the world – a world that was much worse than the one we live in here in America.
So how should we respond to the Supreme Court ruling? We should love people. That does not mean we agree with them? I love my wife dearly but I do not always agree with her nor she me! So no, we can disagree but do so agreeably. We also need to understand that we need to stay committed to our marriage covenants – too many Christians take a secular view of marriage and divorce for reasons not allowed in the covenant agreement. We need to worry less about those outside the church – pray for them certainly – but not judge them. What do we have to do with them other than share the Good News of Christ and let them make up their own minds? And we need to stop looking like an angry mob – that is not what Jesus taught us.
The thing that has become clear to me is that we now have – and perhaps have always had – two separate meanings for marriage; one for believers and one for non-believers. For believers we have a covenant with God in the mystery of marriage He gave us. For non-believers they have a civil contract between two people (any two people) who love each other. While the difference may seem subtle it is immense. Perhaps the best quote I’ve heard about these kinds of differences is this, “For those who believe there is no explanation needed. For those who do not there is no explanation possible.”
So my brothers and sisters, I think we need to take a deep breath and share with our culture the wonders of the mystery of Christian marriage and how significantly different it is than secular marriage. We also need to guard our marriages and live them out the way God intends so that we can be a good witness in our culture instead of a witness that says Christians are just like everyone else. Lastly, we need to stand firm in our convictions in a way that would honor Jesus, telling the truth in love and gentleness and not getting angry about how we see our culture slipping but instead look at it as an even greater harvest field where God can be glorified!