Many in our church family are wondering what it means to be a Bible believing Christian in relation to the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision to legalize same sex marriage across the country. I think God’s timing is perfect and that is reflected in the fact that our summer sermon series is on the Lord’s Prayer. The parts of the prayer we have reflected on in recent Sundays are: the holiness of God’s name, the desire for the kingdom to come, and the desire for God’s will to be done. Those themes, and the prayer as a whole, really connect with how followers of Christ should respond to this court decision and the majority culture that this decision reflects.
Let me say that if you are confused, on the fence, or think the decision was good, we do not want to discredit your personhood. We love you and we want you to remain at the Bible Church and wrestle with us on what it means to be Biblically defined followers of Jesus. The leadership of this church and I affirm the traditional view of gender, sex, and marriage, but we want to dialogue with you, and we want you to know that the centerpiece of our theological and relational mission is Jesus and His gospel, not a certain view of gender, sex, and marriage. We do think this is a big issue with very big implications, but we want to speak with you and we want to hold our view with grace and winsome love. I hope our common desire is to know what God’s will is, known in Scripture, and that we will then submit to that and obey it, regardless of the personal and cultural cost. Would you join us in dialogue and study of the Scripture?
As an aside, I have had people tell me: Jay, you seem so nice and gracious. The Bible Church is so loving and so committed to grace. I can’t believe you hold this view! Now, I guess I am thankful that people see me as nice and that our church is committed to grace. But, I am sad that many self-described Christians don’t see grace and the traditional view of marriage as compatible. In that disassociation are layers and layers of assumptions, experience, and emotion. If you are struggling to see the compatibility of the two realities, please hold on, wrestle with the Biblical text, pray, and seek Scriptural logic. I promise you that grace and the traditional view are not only compatible but essentially tied to one another.
So, let me give you some things to consider as you reflect upon the SCOTUS decision and how it impacts you and Christianity in America. These will hopefully aid you in processing it yourself and also in how you might converse with people about it, Christian and non-Christian alike.
1. What the Bible means by marriage and what the law means by marriage is not the same.
Now that the highest court of the land has defined marriage by the act of legalizing it for any gender configuration, it has become clear that what the law means by marriage and what orthodox Christianity means by marriage is no longer the same. This is actually helpful, I think. This reality gives us the responsibility and the privilege of teaching clear Biblical truth on what marriage actually is, which is something I think the evangelical church has not done well in the last few decades – and one of the reasons we were caught flat footed on this issue. This, in turn, will lead the church to value marriage more, commit to it more, protect it more, and worship through it more. True marriage, the covenant between one man and one woman, will be strengthened in the church of Christ. In other words, I believe the Spirit of God is going to use this season to rebuild our view of marriage. Will we start using a different word for marriage, if the law means something different? I don’t know. Maybe. That won’t help much. Already there are efforts to force religious groups to not only live in this new era but to change our beliefs to agree with it. But, at the very least, we must be clear that what the Bible means by marriage is not the same as what the law, and the majority of Americans, mean by the term. We should make that clear as we talk with people, and that will help people understand why gay couples can get a legal standing which the church can recognize as a legal standing and yet not recognize as a spiritual, theological, and relational standing. We can then explain why our wedding ceremonies exist, and that is for the purpose of extolling the spiritual, theological, and relational realities of marriage.
2. We are being called to live a lot more like New Testament Christians.
Since the founding of this country, the church, and all religious groups, have been blessed by a relatively supportive host culture. I don’t agree that our country was essentially Christian in its core mission, but it is true that a Judeo-Christian worldview was fairly dominant for a long time. The church experienced a lot of protection and freedoms. No one questioned our status as a non-profit institution and certain benefits were given to us because people recognized the church and its clergy as positive influencers for the common good. This is changing. We just shifted gears with the court ruling.
But, if you look at the New Testament, the church was not privileged and protected. It was a small, ragtag, marginalized, often persecuted group of Jesus followers, who clung to the Scriptures, and who knew that following Jesus meant giving up status, power, and sometimes family and physical safety. There was no cake-and-eat-it-too Christianity. Because of that, God’s people experienced the true power of the Holy Spirit in ways I think we have been missing because there was too much human power to trust in for us as an American church. Well, welcome to the days of having those idols ripped from us. Now is the time for us to embrace our marginalized, minority, ridiculed, and maybe even persecuted next chapter. We should embrace this season of harvest, because the vetting, dividing, and clear defining we are seeing as the church will wake us up to the implications of this moment and will make us a much more healthy and Biblical church.
Let me get super specific in terms of the implication. We are going to look a lot dorkier and even poisonous to the world. Friend, that is what it means to follow Christ. I am tearing up as I type this because I know the cost will be high for you, but I also feel so moved at how beautiful and glorious it is to suffer for our sweet Savior, Jesus. He loves us so much. He would never call us to a failed mission. He knows that through suffering with him we will become co-heirs with him of the vast treasure of the universe (go and read Romans 8 right now!).
3. The Bible Church will still continue to keep the main thing the main thing.
You need not worry that this is going to become the pet issue for our church, or evangelicalism. It won’t. I am writing this, and myriad other pieces are floating out there, because this is a current hot issue and this is an important discipleship and teaching moment for the church. But, the dust will settle and we will get used to this as our new normal. Our church is going to preach the Bible each week and celebrate all that God is for us through Jesus. As usual, we will take Biblical texts and unfold them in their context. Our sermons will preach the truths of those passages. Our community will be built around Jesus and his mission. In that sense, not much will change. As part of our overall discipleship, I think one of the lessons learned is that we should make teaching on marriage and sexual purity be an important part of our discipleship ministry and training center, but it won’t overshadow the other important things to be taught.
4. We should pray for continued protections and yet be prepared for loss.
Even though the church is going to grow and become healthier in this season, we should pray and seek ways of protecting some of the legal standing and freedoms we have, so we can continue to direct most of our energy and resources toward gospel mission. For instance, there are already secular voices that are insisting that religious groups who do not affirm the legal and moral validity of same sex marriage should have their non profit standing taken away and thus should be taxed. If that were to occur, churches would pay property tax, would be taxed on our income from giving, giving would no longer be tax deductible, and we would have to pay sales tax on our purchases. Furthermore (and this may occur regardless), our ministry staff would probably lose their clergy housing allowance, which saves thousands a year in taxes, which enables churches to afford a plurality of gifted and focused staff who don’t need to worry about holding another job. Many churches will no longer afford to have property, especially in high rent areas like cities. Many venues will not rent to evangelical churches any longer. Many staff will have to be cut or become part time or be tent makers, unless churches see the need and respond with urgent generosity – and maybe that will be good for people, to see that their giving now must happen in order for churches to be committed to basic gospel mission. Again, this has potential to get the American church back to a healthy square one, but for the time being I hope we can keep these freedoms and benefits, all the while becoming more focused to use them for Jesus’ glory.
5. Continue to love well and be conversant in the Bible.
When the issue comes up among family, friends, at work, over the fence, in your running club, wherever, do your best to express love on your face, in your posture, and in your voice. Don’t let it hit a wall of yes or no questions. Pursue the other person and their story. Why do they believe what they believe? Ask that you begin a conversation and talk about assumptions, history, how you arrived at your conclusions, and, most importantly, that you start with the Bible and work your way backwards from it, and why it is that you have that much confidence in the Bible to define reality. That means you’ve got to study this. The good news is that you will grow closer to the Lord in doing so, and you will learn about a ton of other stuff that is attached to gender, sexuality, and marriage in the process. You will learn about the foundations of life, not least who God is, Father, Son, and Spirit. Now, people may not agree with you but I bet you will plant seeds, win respect, build love into people, and show people what a controversial conversation with someone who feels secure in Christ looks like. Take these opportunities to draw fellow believers back to the Bible as the starting point. And, with non-believers, take this as an opportunity to show them Jesus.
Let’s end there. This is all about Jesus. Getting gender, sex, and marriage right is all about Jesus. This is a topic to be correct on. This is a relationship. This is truth. This is relationship. This is experience. This is reason. This is mission. This is community. This is human flourishing. It’s all of those things. We’ve got to be pressed to the Bible, because this is all about the glory of Jesus and the common good, and the Bible is the only place we where we see what it means to bring glory to Jesus and the recipe for the common good.
For more information, here are some resources for you to work through and consider.
50 Resources on Equipping the Church on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage
What You Should Know about the Supreme Court Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage
Great Videos & Resources to Help Understand
Same-Sex Marriage and the Future
Statement of Position by Leading Evangelical Leaders (including our very own Jay Thomas)