The SCOTUS recently heard oral arguments in two cases related to gay marriage. How they will decide these cases is anyone’s guess, but it is certain that their decisions will influence the national debate that has so far resulted in a patchwork of state laws.
What is marriage? Who gets to define it? What is its purpose?
This is a complicated and emotional topic.
I think the Scriptures provide the answers – from the beginning God instituted the concept of marriage as the joining of a man and a woman with the result being the formation of a unit called the family. I think the Scriptures are equally clear that the ideal for marriage is one male married to one female, joined together until death separates them, with sexual encounters being exclusive to this couple.
Even if Christians agreed with the answers given above (and not all do), how should a pluralistic society where opinions and ideas are not coming from a Judeo-Christian perspective deal with these questions? Specifically what is marriage to the government and the society it governs? How does marriage differ from a civil-union? And who has the right to be considered “married” and by whom? Should it be the federal government, state governments, or the church/religious institution?
As citizens of the USA we all enjoy a great number of liberties and freedoms.These freedoms include the right to free speech, religious expression, and the ability to vote for leaders. However as Christians we need to remember that we do not live in a theocracy and we should not expect the culture to adopt and codify our beliefs. This is difficult for most Christians to accept because the views we hold once enjoyed the benefit of being supported by the laws of the nation as well as a majority of the population.
As the culture generally moves further away from knowing and embracing Christian values we are likely to find ourselves in a smaller and smaller minority. Living in a republic that means that the laws will continue to reflect less of what we hold as true. This Salon article dealing with abortion provides some insight into where we are as a culture and where we are going:
Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice. … the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.
As we face these cultural and legal shifts we should keep in mind that laws that do not uphold Christian norms are not necessarily violating our freedoms or taking away our First Amendment rights. As long as Christians have a right to freely voice our opinion and to practice our religious views than our rights are being recognized even as the nation and its laws reject our beliefs and views as the rule for all citizens. No church or individual should be forced to perform gay marriages, nor be prevented from teaching fully what they believe regarding what behaviors are wrong.
What is far more worrisome about the gay marriage debate is captured in this PJ Media post:
I have a feeling that if the push to end DOMA and Prop 8 were primarily the work of Reason or the Ayn Rand Institute, certain traditionalist conservatives would be at least slightly more amenable to it. This would be because the implicit threat of future civil-rights lawsuits against, say, churches that refuse to marry gays would be a moot point. …
With the New Left, however, all bets are off. You know what’s coming: a whole new bureaucratic tangle of “disparate impact” and “hate crimes”-style legal crusades, … The targets of this campaign will be Catholics and Protestant evangelicals. … The goal is not tolerance but conversion.
If the reactions to Chick-fil-A this past summer or the treatment of those holding traditional views of marriage on the Piers Morgan Show are any indication, this is not too much of a stretch to think that our First Amendment rights will face many challenges in the future.
I agree with Ryan Anderson of Heritage when he explains to Piers Morgan that adults in this country are “free to live and love as they choose” but they should not need the government to call their adult relationship a marriage. At the same time it is fair for citizens to engage in a debate over the economic and tax policies that exist, who they benefit, and how they can be changed to cover various situations. These can be changed to provide more equality to all citizens without redefining marriage.
How we react to the shifts in the culture is something worth considering.
In looking at the Scriptures we are called to
- make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)
- teach and instruct with love (1 Tim 1:5)
- walk in a worthy manner (Eph 4:1)
- live in accordance with the hope that we are forgiven (Heb 10:23)
- share the reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet 3:15)
We are not the first generation of Christians called to live in a culture that does not like what God teaches or have laws that go against what we believe. As Christians we must remember that how we handle matters is different for those inside the church community and those outside of it (1 Cor 5:1-2;9-13).
In dealing with matters outside the church we can learn some things from Paul. In that same letter to the Corinthians Paul did not tell them that eating meat sacrificed to idols was wrong. He told them to buy the meat at the market without asking to many questions. I am sure he would advocate for fair business dealings with those in the markets as well (Prov 11:1). But he did make it clear that idolatry was wrong. The implication was that Christians dealt with those who held differing views without endorsing their lifestyle or demanding that laws be changed to prevent sacrifices to idols. They just refused to participate in these immoral activities and made it clear where they stood.
Paul did not go to Ephesus (Acts 19) to overturn idolatry laws or ban the worship of Artemis. He went to preach the gospel. He proclaimed that forgiveness of sins is available to everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah. His gospel included the fact that idolatry was wrong. This is clear because those who professed Christ gave up the idols and turned to the living God. As a result books related to black magic were burned and sales in idols of Artemis went down. The laws were not changed. Those outside the church were free to continue buying idols and worshiping at the temple. But the gospel changed people.
As we engage in the debates at the national level we should do so remembering that our nation is diverse and that the laws of the land will likely reflect that. But that does not mean we should surrender our views to whatever direction the winds of public polls may be blowing at the moment. Nor should we surrender our 1st Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religious expression. We should vote our values according to our conscience and continue to proclaim the gospel all the while doing good works so that our light shines before a watching world (Matt 5:14-16).