A response to a same-sex marriage question
Last week, I posted on Facebook about the Supreme Court entertaining the arguments related to same-sex marriage. I got this response:
"I really don't understand this argument. For years there have been things that are legal that Christians did not support. How is this different? I am not trying to be rude, I really don't get it. I do not see how something someone else does effects my Christianity. I do not understand why this one thing will bring about the downfall of the church. My father is a minister, and there are many people he turned down for performing a ceremony. It only becomes discrimination if you turn down only one sort of people. It is discrimination, by the very definition of the word. I don't want to be attacked, but I really would love an explanation that isn't built on the old testament. And frankly, I do not see how an argument from the New Testament could be better. The bible has much more to say about indebtedness but I do not see any arguments that talk against how that is bringing about the downfall. of Christianity and the Church. Should the only reason we give to charity or the church be to claim a tax deduction. I have never claimed any charitable giving. It seems to me that doing so changes the motives of giving. Why are we not worried about that. Please I truly want a good argument, I haven't heard one yet."
Hi - thanks for your question. Please understand I’m not angry - just concerned about what this means for the future of the church locally, the church globally and, more selfishly, for my son and his generation. Like you, I don’t intend to argue or “stir the pot” for the fun of it, nor am I sure I'll satisfy your desire for a "good" argument, but I'll try.
I’m a shepherd - it’s what I’ve done since we were at DBU together 25 yrs ago. I’ve never asked anyone to leave my church or my home because of their life choices. Furthermore, my church uses the motto “welcome home” and we treat everyone who comes just like that - as family. So no matter what decision is settled, it won’t change my calling or my love for people. But it may change how much freedom I have to accomplish that and THAT is my issue.
Let me also say I couldn’t care less about tax-exempt status, tax-deductible donation base or protecting my “clergy exemption taxable status.” These issues are peripheral and not a cogent part of my thinking about this issue. Giving ought to be motivated by the desire to join God in His purposes. But I know many who are so motivated and churches who won’t exist without it.
With that out of the way, I'll break my response into two pieces: Biblical and then Political / philsophical. Finally, what am I, as a pastor and the leader of my church and as an individual planning to do here?
FIRST, a Biblical response - Marriage is created and sanctified by God. At your request, I’m leaving aside all Old Testament references. Instead, I’ll just use Jesus’ words. Jesus addresses marriage in Matthew 19:5. There, Jesus speaks of marriage with a clear voice: It’s between a man and a woman. No matter how you translate His words or in what language you read them, they come out the same every time. Male and female pronouns. If Jesus meant to make other accommodations, he certainly could’ve done so - quite easyly in fact. Same-sex marriage was alive and well in first century Rome. Rather, Jesus’ words are intended to bring clarity to the first social contract created by God.
Jesus links his understanding inextricably to the one used in the Old Testament. For clarity, here’s what that definition implies:
(1) God created marriage. The state of Texas didn’t. Neither did the federal government. If God created it, who are we to redefine it?
(2) God ordained marriage - In his infinite wisdom, the marriage is where God began.
(3) God intended marriage to be unique. Marriage is a symbolic picture of the relationship between God and his people.
(4) God intended marriage to be exclusive. While that’s not always the case (due to death or divorce), it seems to be God’s plan.
As for homosexuality itself, the Bible is equally clear. In Romans 1, Paul calls it out clearly as a sin. That’s not to say we should seek to discriminate against them - as you’ve rightly acknowledged, it’s not the only sin mentioned in Scripture. That’s a point I make regularly to my congregation. In our rush to condemn one sin, let’s make sure we realize judgement begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Indebtedness is just one among many. Within the churches I’ve served, I’ve sought to help drunks, drug addicts, people addicted to pornography, people who have cheated on their spouse, cheated on their taxes, cheated others in business dealings, lied to their parents or significant others, engaged in theft and even been responsible for killing another person (both in abortion and otherwise).
Here’s the key distinction between them and what’s happening now. The difference is that NONE of these I just mentioned asked for me to redefine my understanding of their sin nor did they ask for special accommodation as a “discriminated” group. They didn’t tell me I was wrong on my convictions. Some told me they disagreed with the degree of my convictions. But none of those other groups asked me to surrender my religious liberty so they could feel better about their choices.
Second, a POLITICAL / PHILOSOPHICAL response: The issue of before the court is about same-sex marriage but in reality the issue is much MUCH larger than that. This case is essentially about religious liberty and who gets to define that. Here’s what I mean. Those who are proposing same-sex marriage want to redefine two things:
(a) Marriage itself. As it stands, any one is free to marry anyone of opposite gender that they choose and thereby join the institution of marriage. Instead, to approve same-sex marriage demands a redefinition of the term altogether. If same-sex marriage is approved (and by the way I actually believe it will be), then what about the thousands of years of history (and please don’t invoke slavery here - that is as far removed from this discussion as possible) that have defined it as it always has been known. What about the millions of Americans who find the concept offensive? To allow same-sex marriage, the institution itself must be redefined and altered accordingly. Thus, marriage can (and will) mean anything. Group marriage will ultimately find it’s way to legality as well. After all, if we’re redefining the term, why stop with same-sex?
(b) The second thing to redefine is religious liberty - what do those words mean and who can decide what’s allowed and what isn’t? Can my church decide what events we host and who can use our building or will we be charged with discrimination or bigotry if we choose otherwise. Currently, there are very few regulations related to non-discrimination. Even here in East Texas, where racism has a deep history, this really isn’t an issue for us. We’ve invited numerous non-church groups to use our campus and variety of civic events (we have the largest building in town). From school events to funerals for other churches, regardless of color or denomination, we’ve welcomed them all. The largest event we’ve held in my 6 yrs at Central was a funeral for an beloved youth league coach, murdered at his business at the young age of 43. As soon as I heard about it, I contacted the family and asked if we could provide the space for the service. They accepted and brought a crowd of approximately 1200. It was a beautiful picture of the church in action. Did I mention he was African-American? Stacy was a dear friend. I was humbled when they asked me to say a few words and I did - I was the only white person who spoke. I’ve even had a man of “alternative lifestyle” (his term) speak in our church at one of these civic events. I’ve had no problem with any of it. Discrimination, in it’s classical sense, hasn’t been an issue for me personally nor us as a church (at least not since 2009 when I got here).
If we redefine religious liberty, however, I’ll be FORCED to make accommodations for groups, whether I want them or would’ve invited them or not. To meet the nondiscriminatory standards, I’d be forced to host same-sex weddings and, if I operate a school, I'd even be forced to hire outside of the faith standards I hold so dear. If I fail to do so, I’ll be under judgement of law and endanger myself and my church. It doesn’t have to be a same-sex marriage. It can be anything. If I fail to meet the new standards they establish changing religious liberty, then there’s no liberty for me. What about free speech? Will I have the freedom to speak on issues related to this discussion? If this finds footing, the answer is no. Thus ends my freedom of speech as well. The slide gets faster as you go along and that’s the most troubling issue.
So what WILL I do when this is approved? The same thing I’m doing now: love people right where they are. As I said earlier, I’m a shepherd. I’ll love people no matter where or how I find them. I’ll serve them regardless of how they find their way to me. Regardless of creed, problem, history or issues, I’ll love them just as Christ as loved me: freely, selflessly, sacrificially, sometimes, even to my own detriment. I’ve never made it a habit of criticize or judge others or their choices. What I will NOT do is surrender the convictions that have led me thus far, even under penalty of law. I know it won’t be a popular stance, but it’s a needed one and I’ll take it. Not to make myself an example nor to take a martyr’s position, but to underscore that there are indeed some things that are sacred and marriage is at the top of that list.