On June 26 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that no State is allowed to deny the right of marriage to same sex couples. Some have hailed this decision as a great achievement; others have labeled it “diabolical.” People are polarized on both sides of the issue. Conversation is so emotionally charged that I often feel more heat than I see light. Rather than express agreement with one side or the other, I’ll like to make a few observations.
The ruling is just another affirmation that we live in a secular democracy. I trust no one maintains the illusion that we live in a “Christian nation.” As such, my gay and lesbian neighbors now have the right to marry, a right that I have always had. As member of this democratic society, and a believer in justice, I support their “right.”
For believers, however, another question looms, “Does the Bible allow gay marriage?” Though the issue is now being debated in the church, I land on the historic interpretation of Scripture that teaches marriage is between a man and a woman for life. What I don’t find though, as I read the New Testament, is that the church’s role is to reshape our political structures. Yet, the church must address issues of justice.
Increasingly, true followers of Jesus likely are in the minority or soon will be (depending on how you interpret the various polls). In a secular democracy believers in Jesus will increasingly find ourselves a minority. It is important to remember that the church has always been counter-cultural, and the New Testament teaches Christians are to be salt and light. So, even as the church in America may be losing social capital, we still have the opportunity to offer people a different alternative. The early church was salt and light in the Roman Empire, and now we need to live into a similar calling. We offer life in Jesus, which brings genuine transformation. That is very different than simply calling people to a Christian sexual ethic.
Jesus sought to capture people’s heart to live out God’s Kingdom on earth. Jesus never used political strategies to ensure a moral government nor did he co-opt political parties. Even when Jesus was invited to set up an alternative government on earth by some of his followers he declined. Jesus taught that His Kingdom is not of this world and would not come by political means.
Rather than wring our hands that we are a minority, I believe the church can proceed forward in the following ways:
- We can demonstrate our commitment to Biblical marriage. For many years we have been lax in our commitment to marital fidelity. Divorce in the church does not lag far behind that of the rest of America. Christians can honor marriage by making a life-long commitment to their spouse and create marriages that picture Christ’s love for His Church.
- We can demonstrate our commitment to sexual purity. I recently heard a local pastor say, “Disciples of Jesus should support a culture of consistent sexual sacrifice.” No matter what our marital status, Christians are to follow the ethic of Jesus rather than simply the laws of the land. Singles in the church are called to abstain from fornication. Perhaps the church could help them by affirming and celebrating a call to singleness and creating more space for singles in the church. Married people are to devoted and sexually active with only their spouse. Everyone, married and single, is called to avoid pornography. Why would we single out one violation of Scripture for our culture without mentioning these other sins? How can we criticize the sexual ethic of those outside the church when we are so far from living the commands of Jesus?
- We can affirm and celebrate a single celibate lifestyle for gays and straights. Jesus’ call to the LGBT community is not to heterosexuality, but rather into a relationship with Christ, which results in holiness. I love Christopher Yuan’s phrase that the New Testament doesn’t call us to a heterosexual lifestyle but a holy lifestyle for singles and married couples.
- We can love those with whom we disagree. Jesus said in John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Our attitude toward those inside and outside the church must be one of love. That is our highest ethic. Most people have bought the lie that says, “If you don’t agree with me you cannot love me.” Now is the time for believers in Jesus to show radical love to all people, especially those with whom we may disagree. People respond far better to love than they do to judgment.
- We can offer people the alternative of life in Jesus. The best life is a life reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. If we really believe our Creator God knows the way for humans to flourish, we can, in love, share God’s way of life with others. The church can offer an alternative to those who have been disillusioned, disappointed, and broken by the empty promises being sold to us in the media.
- We can teach that all, or at least most, people struggle with sexual sin. Though temptations may be different, every honest believer can attest to some kind of temptation. We can stand with those who seek sexual purity, providing support and a loving community. Which leads to the next action step.
- We can remind ourselves and others that the Scripture does not teach marriage is the ultimate goal of life. Perhaps because the church has overly idealized marriage people have wrongly concluded the unmarried have less value or have missed the opportunity for fulfillment in life. In the conclusion to his decision, Justice Kennedy wrote of gays and lesbians, “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.” Where does this idea come from that those who are not married are “condemned to live in loneliness?” I know a number of married people who are lonely and many singles who are not. What happened to community outside the marriage relationship? It seems to me that there are many, who for a variety of reasons, will never marry. Are we ready to say that all who remain single are “condemned to live in loneliness?” I certainly hope not.
- We can stand for religious liberty. For many years now, many Christians have been fighting the wrong legal and political battles. The place where we need keen legal representation is the pursuit of freedom in our own religious practices. While granting others their rights in this democratic society, it would be unjust to lose our own.
This is no time for consternation. This is a time for the Church to be the Church that Christ intended.