Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 5-4 decision that homosexuals should be afforded the right to marry one another and entitled to all of the legal protections and advantages of marriage. This is now the law of the land. For many states in our country, today looks very different for them. For others of us, like those of us in New York, this news simply repeated on a Federal level what was already established in our state (though the language of the law was more vague on the Federal level relative to religious exemptions/protections than it was in our state law). Back in 2011, I wrote some things relative to the law being passed in New York (you can read it here: http://thecha.pl/1RNc13V)
There is much that could be said and questioned about the merits of such a law, and many people have voiced questions such as:Is it in keeping with the Constitution? Is an unelected body of jurors with no term limits the proper forum for imposing decisions on the country? Is it a step in the right direction to protect a group of people from discrimination? Does it open the door to discriminate against one group of people while trying to protect another group? Does it help or hurt the fabric of our society?
There are varying, and nuanced, answers to the above questions that I will leave for others to discuss. I'm not a politician. I'm a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as such, I would rather speak from that perspective.
So, with that, let me offer a few thoughts on a practical, pastoral level.
1. If you are a follower of Jesus, then His Lordship is your law.
Let me say this as plainly as I can: The SCOTUS decision does not change anything about my responsibility to love and obey Jesus. That means, on a personal level, that I teach people about God's design for marriage as evidenced in the original design in Genesis, affirm the teaching of Jesus about marriage, divorce and sexual integrity in the Gospels, and help people understand the "why" of marriage and what it represents as taught by the apostles of Jesus. And for all of us it means that we embrace the way of Jesus and the heart of Jesus when our lives intersect with those who don't hold to the same belief we hold in Jesus. Ancient and present history shows us that laws don't always represent the way of Jesus, but our faith teaches us that one day, upon Jesus's return, Jesus Himself will make the laws. In the mean time, we can take the posture of Jesus and the apostles who faced governmental pressure and antipathy. They did not really concern themselves with changing the law - they concerned themselves with offering those they encountered the hope of a changed life found in God. Changing laws does change culture. But changing lives does a better job of it.
2. Let's learn to play offense instead of only playing defense.
It seems whenever something like this happens in our culture, the response of the broad Christian populace is one of "the sky is falling" (or, in terms more appropriate to those who hold them, "the Apocalypse is upon us"). This puts us in an immediate state of defense. Many retreat behind their walls, yell curses at the darkness, and launch verbal grenades from behind those walls (or computer keyboards).
But what if we took a different path? What if we asked how we might engage those who don't believe what we believe? How we could actively love them? How we could show them that we aren't just opposed to everything, but are actually "for" a lot more things than they realized. I know this sounds frightening to many Christian people because they don't want to be around "those kinds of people." Thank God that Jesus didn't say that about you. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.
Or maybe you are afraid that your relationship/friendship with someone who is homosexual will be an implicit endorsement of their lifestyle. But you don't do that with any of your other friends do you? You and I have friends whose lives don't measure up to all that God has designed for them (not to mention that we fall in that category ourselves), but that doesn't mean we abandon them. We need to love them. And love doesn't mean that we compromise conviction. It means we love like Jesus - the One who is full of both grace and truth.
3. This issue isn't as new as we think it is.
It would be naive and immature to act as if this legislation doesn't have consequence. Some bloggers and commentators would have us believe that this doesn't change anything for anyone - it's just the legalization of people being able to love whomever they want to love. It's far more complex than that, and every thinking person knows it. It touches virtually every arena of thought and praxis - social, theological, philosophical, psychological, governmental, and cultural.
But we should not pretend, as the church, that this is the first time we have had to deal with sexual morality. We have to deal with issues surrounding sexual morality every day. Heterosexual spouses that do not remain faithful to each other and thus undercut the picture of Christ's love for and faithfulness to His Church. Single adults who haven't submitted their sexuality to the Lordship of Jesus, but instead make choices that demonstrate that they haven't found their sufficiency in Christ. And, yes, issues around gender orientation, same-sex attraction, and heterosexual and homosexual pornographic addictions.
This isn't new. It's just a reminder that the gospel of Jesus is as needed and relevant to the issues of the day as it ever was. Paul knew that those in Corinth needed the gospel to free them (as he writes in 1 Corinthians 6:9-20), and this ruling in our country should remind us that we need the gospel of freedom just as much now.
4. This could be a time of great hope.
I actually find myself hopeful on a number of fronts. First, whatever we find going on in the world and in our country, we should be able to embrace the truth that Daniel articulated; namely, that the "Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth" (Daniel 4:17). We have never, as followers of Jesus, looked to the government to be our help and confidence. Our help and confidence is in God. Second, as we read the Scripture in its context, we find that the Church actually grows and thrives as a counter-cultural organism. That is how the Church is actually designed - we are different, a curious people. In Rome, Greece, Ephesus, Antioch and elsewhere, the Church actually grew and prospered from the margins of society as they loved and served people with the spirit of Jesus. I'm hopeful that maybe this is a day and age for that to happen again. Third, I'm hopeful that as the culture shifts, it gives more and more clear definition regarding those who truly follow Jesus. Not those who follow a religion that is fundamentally political and endeavors to appropriate laws that reflect their perspective on life, but those who truly follow Jesus. Those that can speak truth to power, who can love the marginalized, who can speak to the issues of the day with love that doesn't compromise conviction, and who are radically committed to the power of grace to transform ANY life. Finally, I hope that this will be a wake-up call to the Church to take seriously the convictions she holds about marriage. Those who claim to be the people of Jesus have not been a glowing example of the beauty, mystery, and gospel-centered picture of Christ and the Church as we should be. Maybe we will realize that our uncompelling picture of marriage has contributed, in some degree, to where we are as a culture. I'm hopeful that we can embrace the teaching of Scripture on marriage in totality, and we can live out a witness and picture of the gospel that is compelling and beautiful and strong.