Posts tagged ‘President Obama’

Changing Racist Hearts

Credit:  AP / The Washington Post

Credit: AP / The Washington Post

It’s been a tough week for race relations in America. Saturday, March 7 began with a march, led by President Obama and Representative John Lewis, across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the day 600 voting rights demonstrators, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., crossed this same bridge and were met by state troopers who attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas. Indeed, Representative Lewis was among those seriously injured in that fateful march. Reflecting on the events of fifty years ago, the president noted:

In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – all that history met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America.

And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so many others, the idea of a just America, and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed …

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.[1]

If only the president’s final line rang a truer longer.

The very next day, a video surfaced showing members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma singing a horrifyingly racist song on a bus. The University quickly denounced the video, suspended the fraternity from its campus, and expelled two of the students involved.

But then came this:

Attorneys and law professors have watched with interest this week as the University of Oklahoma moved swiftly to disband the school’s SAE chapter and expel two students on suspicion of leading the racist chant, which was captured on a now-viral video.

University President David Boren acted decisively in dismantling the chapter, but experts say the university may be on shaky legal ground.[2]

The issue at hand is whether or not the University of Oklahoma violated the students’ First Amendment rights by closing their fraternity and expelling two students simply because they sang a song that many find – and, I hasten to add, should find – offensive. As Terrence McCoy reports in an article for The Washington Post:

The expulsions immediately struck constitutional law experts such as professor Eugene Volokh, of the University of California at Los Angeles and the Volokh Conspiracy blog, as strange. Did the University of Oklahoma, a public institution, just punish speech that, while clearly abhorrent, was protected under the First Amendment? Was this a violation of the Constitution?

Private institutions – like Sigma Alpha Epsilon – can freely punish speech that breaches their codes or standards. But a public institution such as the University of Oklahoma, which takes public money, operates as an arm of the government under the law. “So, in effect, it’s not a university punishing a student for a racist video or social media post, it is the state itself acting against an individual – a person, importantly, with all the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment,” wrote the University of West Alabama’s Will Nevin on AL.com.[3]

This case is yet another example of how woefully inadequate civic laws can be to address the deeply moral aspects of the human condition and experience.

One the one hand, the First Amendment was put in place to serve an important common good – that of protecting this country’s citizens from being oppressed, even in their speech, by their government. This freedom is important and ought to be fiercely protected.  On the other hand, we must never forget that societal freedom is inevitably fraught with personal danger. Free speech, it turns out, does not always translate into right speech. Just because legally we can say almost anything doesn’t mean that morally we should.

An opinion piece by Byron Williams of The Huffington Post struck me as especially lucid in regard to this story’s moral entailments:

America’s approach to the original sin of racism maintains an aspect of arrested development. It is too easy to temporarily transfer our moral indignation toward a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma that no longer exists than it is to take the more difficult path that could lead to a meaningful transformation.[4]

Notice the explicitly theological and moral category Williams uses for racism: it’s America’s “original sin.” But notice also how Williams also offers a distinctly non-civic answer to his distinctly theological and moral framing of this problem:

The expelled students have already succeeded in dismantling their fraternity chapter. Shouldn’t they be given opportunity for redemption? In lieu of expulsion, could the university have found another way to educate all involved about the poisons of racism?

The ease with which one can easily sing a song for amusement that dehumanizes another cannot be eradicated by an expulsion that, in my view, is unconstitutional.

Because racism is a learned behavior, it can be unlearned.

Moreover, it could prove to be the most meaningful class the students involved ever take.

To answer what he refers to as an “original sin,” Williams proposes a path to “redemption.” Though he does not frame redemption in a particularly Christian way, his argument is nevertheless rich with not-so-subtle theological overtones and vocabulary. Racists, as Williams notes, “cannot be eradicated by an expulsion.” In other words, if we want to root out racism from society, racists will need something more than punitive measures. As Christians, we know that racists will need Jesus – even as all sinners need Jesus. And racists will need followers of Jesus who are willing both to stand up against them and to seek the transformation of them.

One student’s words on last Monday’s NBC Nightly News broadcast express my hope for the students of Sigma Alpha Epsilon: “I want this to be a rehabilitory time for them.”[5] I hope it is. Because although the First Amendment may be able to defend them legally, it’s only Jesus who can change them internally. And it’s only Jesus who can heal people left broken by these students’ words relationally. So let’s lift our eyes to that hope. After a week like this last one, it’s a hope that we need.

_________________________

[1] Chris Cillizza, “A single photo that tells the powerful story of the 50th anniversary of Selma,” The Washington Post (3.7.2015).

[2] Matt Pearce, “Is University of Oklahoma frat’s racist chant protected by 1st Amendment?Los Angeles Times (3.10.2015).

[3] Terrence McCoy, “Why expelled Oklahoma frat boys would have an ‘excellent chance’ in court,” The Washington Post (3.11.2015).

[4] Byron Williams, “It’s Not Unconstitutional to Be Racist,” The Huffington Post (3.11.2015).

[5] NBC Nightly News, Lester Holt reporting (3.9.2015).

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March 16, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Peace and Justice in the Face of ISIS

Credit: NBC News

Credit: NBC News

First it was James Foley. Days later, it was Steven Sotloff. The beheading of two journalists by ISIS has certainly thrust the travesties of this terrorist organization to the forefront of our minds and our news cycle. But these are just ISIS’s latest crimes. At the beginning of August, some 50,000 Yazidis were forced to flee into the mountains of Iraq or face death at the hands of ISIS militants. ISIS also kidnapped hundreds Yazidi women, selling them as sex slaves for as little as $25. Last week, The New York Times profiled the gut-wrenching story of Iraqi soldier Ali Hussein Kadhim who was captured along with hundreds of other soldiers by ISIS militants.  Christians too have been in ISIS’s crosshairs, being threatened with death if they do not convert to radical Islam or pay a tax.

Back home, President Obama is grappling with how to deal with a terrorist threat and crimes against humanity that are half a world away. And he’s been getting pressure from all sides. On one side, a coalition of religious conservatives has signed a petition calling for decisive military action:

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS … genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities. This goal cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable ISIS … forces.[1]

On the other side, a group of Catholic and Protestant leaders has written a letter to President, urging caution and restraint:

While the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, U.S. military action is not the answer. Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq. As difficult as it might be, in the face of this great challenge, we believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.[2]

This is a crisis no president wants to face. This crisis also presents an ethical dilemma no Christian finds easy to confront. On the one hand, my preference and prayer would be that ISIS repent of their crimes and peace be restored to Iraq. On the other hand, I am sober-minded enough to know that ISIS shows no signs of softening. When even the Taliban is concerned about ISIS’s extremism, things are not on the right track.

So how do we understand this problem theologically?

A curious feature of biblical theology is what scholars refer to as “proleptic eschatology.” In short, proleptic eschatology asserts that bits and pieces of what will happen on the Last Day show up in our days. For example, the apostle Paul claims that Christ’s resurrection is only “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). In other words, the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day has shown up in the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Likewise, Jesus describes His return on the Last Day to judge the earth thusly: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). But before a cosmic judgment on the Last Day, Jesus describes a smaller judgment in the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in His day: “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). Jesus’ words come to pass when the Roman general Titus decimates Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The judgment of the Last Day shows up in the destruction of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day.

It is this theology of proleptic eschatology that Paul has in mind when he exhorts his readers: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Paul promises that even if we see miscarriages of justice in our day, God will avenge evil on the Last Day.

But that’s not the only day God will avenge evil.

Paul knows the evil of our day, if left unchecked until the Last Day, would yield unspeakable horrors. This is why Paul continues by explaining that bits and pieces of God’s judgment on the Last Day show up in our day through the actions of world governments: “[The governing authority] is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). The judgment of God against sin on the Last Day shows up through world governments in our day.

This, then, brings us to the Christian’s ethical dilemma. Because, on the one hand, we are called to wait patiently until the Last Day for God’s perfect judgment and justice to be revealed. On the other hand, governing authorities – including our own governing authority – can be used by God as His agents to bring temporal justice to the criminal problems of our day. This is why two sets of Christians can write two very different letters to President Obama.

I, for one, am praying that perhaps ISIS will have a Jonah moment – that they, like when Jonah preached to Nineveh, will hear the warning of God’s judgment, repent, and be spared of His wrath. But I am also very aware that after the preaching of Jonah to Nineveh came the preaching of Nahum to Nineveh – and with the preaching of Nahum to Nineveh came God’s wrath against Nineveh.

The clock is ticking on ISIS. I pray for peace and reconciliation. But I also pray that justice against these terrorists will not tarry long. The spilled blood of thousands is crying out.

__________________________

[1]A Plea on Behalf of Victims of ISIS/ISIL Barbarism in Iraq,” iraqrescue.org.

[2]53 national religious groups, academics, ministers urge alternatives to U.S. military action in Iraq,” Mary Knoll Office for Global Concerns (8.27.2014).

September 8, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Jason Collins’ Big Announcement

Jason CollinsThere have been plenty of splashy and flashy headlines sprawled across newspapers, news stations, and news websites concerning NBA free agent Jason Collins over these past several days, but I prefer the simplicity of CNN:  “NBA’s Jason Collins comes out as gay.”[1]  The reactions to Jason Collins’ revelation, as expected, have been wide and diverse.  The Huffington Post reports that President Obama called Collins to tell him “he was impressed by his courage.”[2]  Sports analyst Chris Broussard sparked a firestorm when, speaking on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” he said, “I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality…I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.”[3]  Finally, the Human Rights Campaign likened the effects Collins’ “coming out” to that of Jackie Robinson being the first African American to play baseball in the modern era.  HRC President Chad Griffin released this statement:

Jason Collins’ commitment to living openly is a monumental step forward toward greater equality and he immediately becomes a role model for youth all across this country. His actions today tell LGBT young people that what will define our success in life is our character and dedication, not our sexual orientation. At a moment when millions are reflecting on the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson, Jason Collins is a hero for our own times.[4]

So what is a Christian to make of all this?  Chris Broussard summarizes the orthodox Christian position quite well when he says, “I think [homosexuality is] a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.”  The second part of Broussard’s statement is key.  As we watch the story of Jason Collins’ “coming out,” we must see it as only a piece of a bigger puzzle.  For decades, sexual immorality has been rampant in professional sports.  One can’t help but think of the offer AshleyMadison.com put on the table shortly after Tim Tebow joined the New York Jets.  Noel Biderman, the founder of Ashley Madison, offered one million dollars to anyone who could produce evidence that the backup quarterback was not, in fact, a virgin.  Biderman said, “Sports and sex (and of course, infidelity) go hand in hand…If Mr. Tebow is indeed abstaining from adult relationships, I would encourage him to find a nice lady or two and enjoy his youth and fame as much as possible.”[5]  His assertion that “sports and sex (and of course, infidelity) go hand in hand” is, sadly, true.  Story after story could be enumerated of professional athletes behaving badly – engaging in everything from infidelity to rape to premarital sex which has become so culturally accepted, it is no longer disconcerting enough to raise even an eyebrow much less make a headline.  Thus, Chris Broussard’s embrace of an openly homosexual lifestyle is only one instance in a long parade of what the Bible would deem sexual immorality.

In a culture that has such radically different sexual mores from that of the Christian ethos, there are a couple of things Christians should keep in mind.  First, we should remember that, no matter how winsomely and well Christian sexual standards are explained or packaged, there will be many who will reject and ridicule them.  This has to do with the foolishness of the Scripture and of the gospel itself to those who do not trust Jesus.  As the apostle Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  The Scriptural reservation for sex between a husband and wife is simply unintelligible to many in our society.

Second, even if the world considers God’s wisdom foolish, this does not mean that we should not share God’s wisdom with our world.  Christians can and must speak to the issues of our day.  After all, if we truly believe that God’s way is the best way, and if we truly love our neighbors as Jesus commands, how can we not share God’s desire for them out love for them?

Finally, as we share God’s Word – and especially as we share God’s Word concerning human sexuality – we must do so with an attitude of humility rather than with a spirit of arrogance.  Jesus makes it clear that all struggle with sexual brokenness:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).  Jesus’ standard for sexual purity is one that none of us have kept.  When we speak to others about sexual purity, therefore, we must do so as fellow strugglers rather than as self-righteous sermonizers.

In a culture that celebrates and sanctions sexual sin, we are called to hold out a message of hopeful purity.  By God’s grace, may we hold out that message with the clarity, conviction, and compassion that it deserves.


[1] Joe Sterling and Steve Almasy, “NBA’s Jason Collins comes out as gay,” CNN (4.30.2013).

[2] Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel, “Obama Calls Jason Collins, ‘Impressed By His Courage’ In Coming Out,” The Huffington Post (4.29.2013).

[3] Scott Collins, “ESPN’s Chris Broussard sparks uproar with Jason Collins remarks,” LA Times (4.29.2013.)

[4] HRC Staff, “Jason Collins Changes the Face of Sports Forever By Coming Out,” Human Rights Campaign (4.29.2013).

[5] Danny Cox, “Jets quarterback Tim Tebow’s virginity worth a reported $1 million dollars,” Examiner.com (4.24.2012).

May 6, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter To Jesus

Last week, I stumbled across a blog post by Matt Chambers that struck me:

Could you imagine what Jesus’ ministry would have looked like if after giving “The Sermon on the Mount” He immediately checked social media to see how many retweets He got, or if #beatitudes was trending?

Or, before riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, He sat down with His creative team to map out exactly how to create a moment people would remember for thousands of years. (#TriumphalEntry, anyone?)

I wonder what opinion polls would have looked like after the crucifixion…or a big throw down with Pharisees…or a mass healing session.  What if He healed certain people more than others because data showed healing someone with leprosy went viral (heh, viral) faster than healing the blind?[1]

As we enter into the home stretch of yet another presidential election, it’s important to value and pray for our leaders, for they are given to us by God as Romans 13:1 so aptly reminds us.   But it also doesn’t hurt to chuckle a little at the human avenues and inroads that our politicians regularly leverage to try to garner and sustain power – opinion polls being one of them.

I especially appreciate Matt’s reference to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry (cf. John 12:12-15) and trying “to create a moment people would remember for thousands of years.”  This year, both political parties tried – using plenty of opinion polls about their presidential candidates’ relative strengths and weaknesses – to do exactly that at their conventions.  Though only time will tell, I doubt memories from these conventions will last thousands of days, much less thousands of years.  Jesus, as Matt so wryly notes, took no opinion polls, yet Christians across the world still celebrate Palm Sunday to this day.  Apparently, Jesus can create a long-lasting moment without consulting polls on what people think of Him.

Currently, I am teaching a Bible study to a couple of different groups on the Old Testament book of Daniel.  In chapter two, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has a dream where he sees a statue made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron mixed with clay.  Nebuchadnezzar knows his dream is of consequence, but his astrologers and soothsayers are not able to offer any interpretation of his dream.  But Daniel, a Hebrew exile to Babylon, can.  Daniel explains that the different materials in the statue represent different kingdoms – the gold being the Babylonian Kingdom, the silver being the Persian Kingdom, the bronze being the Kingdom of Alexander the Great, with the bronze and clay finally signifying the Roman Empire.  Most important to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, however, is what happens to all of these kingdoms:  “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44).

Human kingdoms, no matter how many opinion polls their leaders may consult, never manage to endure.  The Kingdom of God, ushered in by Jesus, crushes them all, itself enduring forever – even without the benefit of opinion polls.  In fact, it endures in spite of really bad opinion polls – opinion polls so poor, in fact, that they got Jesus nailed to a cross.

As Election Day draws near, we’ll watch kingdoms be built and coalitions of constituents be congealed.  But in the midst of all the political intrigue,  let’s not forget to which Kingdom we pledge our ultimate allegiance.  For that Kingdom has staying power that will last far beyond November 6.  That Kingdom will last forever.


[1] Matt Chambers, “First Church of Public Opinion,” www.outofur.com (9.25.12).

October 1, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What We Say (And Don’t Say) About Homosexual Practice

When President Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC News on May 9,[1] I knew I would get a lot of questions.  And sure enough, I did.  This is why the pastors of Concordia have prepared a Christian response to same-sex marriage specifically and homosexual practice generally.  You can find the response here.  This response will also be published this week in a booklet along with an appendix which will answer some of the questions we have received in response to the document.

I have found this whole brouhaha (to use a technical, theological term) to be fascinating – not so much because of the common, perennial questions I have received concerning same-sex marriage, but because of the way many prominent Christians have responded to this now top-of-mind topic.

It saddens me that when questions are asked, so many Christian people have responded in a breathtakingly nebulous way.  Take, for instance, popular Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans.  In her blog, “How To Win A Culture War And Lose A Generation,” she decries the way in which the Church has responded to homosexuality:

Every single student I have spoken with believes that the Church has mishandled its response to homosexuality.

Most have close gay and lesbian friends.

Most feel that the Church’s response to homosexuality is partly responsible for high rates of depression and suicide among their gay and lesbian friends, particularly those who are gay and Christian.

Most are highly suspicious of “ex-gay” ministries that encourage men and women with same-sex attractions to marry members of the opposite sex in spite of their feelings.

Most feel that the church is complicit, at least at some level, in anti-gay bullying.[2]

Here, Evans has no problem being sharply specific.  Evans places her finger squarely on the pulse of something profoundly tragic:  Those who are not Christian feel belittled and berated by the way traditional, orthodox Christians have often responded to homosexuality.  They have come across as judgmental, self-righteous, bigoted, and they have even contributed, at least in a complicit way, to the heart-wrenching stories of anti-gay bullying we read in the news.  Tragic.

So what is Evans’ way forward?  Her last sentence, “Stop waging war and start washing feet,” seems to present itself as her proposed solution, but I am still left puzzled.  Though I know there are some bigoted, self-righteous, mean-spirited Christians who delight in waging culture wars, brandishing about the word “sinner” like a weapon of mass destruction while refusing to serve and love according to Jesus’ call and command, I know many other Christians who make it their life’s work to humbly call sinners to repentance while serving them in love.  I see the service part of a Christian’s vocation in her statement, “Start washing feet,” but what about the calling to repentance part?  Are we not supposed to do both?

Interestingly, Evans wrote a follow-up post where she proposes yet another solution:  “We need to listen to one another’s stories.”[3]  People’s stories do matter.  And listening is terrific, yes.  But to what end?  Do we have nothing other than our own stories to share?  Isn’t the glory of Christianity that it is extra nos, that is, “outside of us” – that we have a righteousness not our own to save us from sin all too tragically our own (cf. Philippians 3:9)?  We need to come to grips with the fact that what Jesus says about us is far more important than what we say about ourselves.  His story matters more than ours because His story redeems ours.

There’s an old country song by Aaron Tippin where he sings, “You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”[4]  I fear that, when it comes to homosexual practice and same-sex marriage, we have abdicated our duty of standing – not charging, not belittling, not berating, not politicking – but just standing – standing in the truth and speaking that truth with grace.

The apostle Paul writes, “Stand firm in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:13).  Notice the definite article in front of the word “faith.”  We are to stand firm not just in any faith, but in the faith.  This means that we say what the faith says:  Homosexual practice is a sin.  It is one of a million ways that humans have invented for themselves to break God’s law, just like I invent for myself a million ways to break God’s law too.  But God loves sinners.  God loves you.  That’s why He sent Jesus to die and be raised for you.  So repent of your sin and trust in Him.  And please allow me to walk with you and love you as do so, or even if you do not.

There.  Was that so hard?


[1]Obama Affirms Support For Same Sex Marriage,” ABC News (5.9.12).

[2] Rachel Held Evans, “How To Win A Culture And Lose A Generation” (5.9.12).

[3] Rachel Held Evans, “From Waging War To Washing Feet: How Do We Move Forward?” (5.11.12).

[4] Aaron Tippin, “You’ve Got To Stand For Something,” RCA Records (1991).

May 21, 2012 at 5:15 am 4 comments

A Pastoral Statement on President Obama’s Endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage

Dear Friends in Christ,

The issues of same-sex marriage, or gay marriage, and the broader topic of homosexuality are not only “hot” topics in our society, they are also tender issues that reach to the heart of many families and individuals.  These are issues laced with personal and familial experiences that strike at the basic need we all share to love and be loved.  As a result, it is difficult to discuss these matters objectively.  Our desire is to do that very thing – to present these issues from a loving and compassionate perspective that seeks to share Biblical truth without compromising our desire to love all people (as Christ has loved us) without regard for their sexual orientation.

The Christian Church is often painted as “the enemy” of homosexual people.  Unfortunately, this picture has often been exacerbated by poor and confusing communication from the Church. We, however, see this characterization as a misunderstanding of the Church and its role.  Christian people are called to commit themselves to God and His Word.  In doing so, we are called to love all people unconditionally while also standing firm on the truths expressed in the holy Word of God.

In response to many questions and concerns expressed over President Obama’s recent statements regarding gay marriage, we have prepared this statement.  On the surface, this may seem a clear-cut issue to people on all sides of the argument.  However, it is our belief that this issue is complicated and worthy of careful consideration.  As a result, this statement is lengthy.  Please take the time to work your way through each of the topics and consider each point.  Please also, as time allows, take the time to consider the additional resources listed at the end of this document.

Finally, as you read this statement, know that we, your pastors, love you and your families.  Our passion to share God’s love and encouragement with you, your families, and all people is deep and compelling in our lives.  If you have concerns or questions about this document, please contact us.

God bless you!


Bill Tucker, Senior Pastor
Concordia Lutheran Church, San Antonio, Texas
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com

A Summary of the Statement

This past Wednesday, in an interview with ABC News, President Obama expressed his support of same-sex marriage. In response to the widespread questions over the president’s comments, we thought it would be helpful to address the biblical stance on same-sex marriage in a four-section statement, prepared by the pastors of Concordia Lutheran Church.  Because we know that not everyone will have the time or the inclination to read the full statement, what follows is a brief summary of the major points of the paper.

Compassion and Conviction
As Christians, we are called to address every sin and every sinner with both compassion and conviction.  This is also true when it comes to the sins of homosexual activity and same-sex marriage.  We must speak compassionately to those in homosexual lifestyles, calling to their attention Jesus’ offer of salvation for those trapped in sexual sin (cf. Matthew 21:31).  At the same time, we must also speak with conviction concerning the sinfulness of homosexual activity specifically and all sexual immorality generally (cf. Romans 1:25-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-12).

The Marriage Model
Our society is losing respect for the biblical model of marriage as a lifelong covenant relationship between one man and one woman until death parts them (cf. Matthew 19:4-6).  The passage of no-fault divorce laws in many states, the prevalence of adultery, pre-marital sex, pornography, and marital abuse all demonstrate this.  President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is merely the latest example of an affront against the biblical model of marriage.

Civic Policy and the Divine Order
Christians can stand against same-sex marriage not only on the basis of the Scriptural witness, but also on the basis of natural, moral law.  Because certain moral mandates are written on the heart of every human being (cf. Romans 2:14-15), our society adheres to a broad moral standard, derived from the natural order of things in our world.  This is why murder, stealing, lying, and the like are punishable by our civic system.  If we follow the natural order of things on these moral issues, why would we abandon this order when it comes to same-sex marriage?

Authority and Autonomy
Our society has a tendency to make moral judgments based not on absolute truth, but on shifting popular opinion.  President Obama himself exemplifies this method of moralizing when, in his interview, he references practicing homosexuals he knows and has known as justification for his endorsement of same-sex marriage.  As Christians, however, we cannot embrace the shifting sensibilities of our culture or our personal preferences to form our moral stances.  Instead, we must turn to the one and final standard of morality and goodness:  God Himself, revealed through His Word (cf. Luke 18:19).

We encourage you to read the full statement to learn more.  As Christians committed to the witness of Scripture, this is most certainly an issue worthy of our time, attention, and thought.

A Pastoral Statement on President Obama’s Endorsement
of Same-Sex Marriage

This past Wednesday, in an interview with ABC News, President Obama expressed his support of what is commonly referred to as same-sex marriage, or gay marriage:

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.[1]

President Obama’s comments mark a major milestone in presidential politics.  Never has an incumbent president called for the transformation of one of society’s foundational institutions.  Not surprisingly, a fury of political, sociological, and theological punditry has erupted around the president’s statements.

In response to the widespread questions over the president’s stance, because of the rampant confusion over homosexuality and its morality, and because this issue is not merely theoretical, but also relational and personal for many people, we thought it would be prudent to briefly address the biblical stance on this topic in four sections.  These sections include:  (1) The importance of speaking with both compassion and conviction about homosexuality and to homosexuals; (2) Reiterating the biblical model for marriage; (3) Understanding the interplay between the civic, political realm and the natural, moral realm; and (4) Submitting to Scripture’s authority while recognizing the dangers of our rampant cultural autonomy.  Let’s address each of these areas briefly.

Compassion and Conviction

Holy Scripture is clear in its command:  we are to show compassion to those caught in sexual sin, including homosexual sin, and we are to show and share the hope and forgiveness of the gospel with all sinners.  Indeed, Jesus was known for His compassion toward those mired in sexual sin and even opened His kingdom to them.   He says to the religious leaders of His day, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31).  People caught in sexual sin are included in God’s kingdom through faith in Christ.  Such is the compassion and grace of our God.  When a woman is caught in the act of adultery and the religious leaders seek to stone her, Jesus sends her accusers away and says, “I [do not] condemn you…Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  In an act of extravagant compassion and grace, Jesus forgives this woman’s sin and saves her life.  It is important to note, however, that while Jesus offers His deep compassion, at the same time, He refuses to compromise His core conviction concerning the immorality of sexual sin.  He calls this woman to repent of her sin and not to return to it.  Thus, Jesus holds His compassion and conviction in perfect tension.  This is why the Bible says that Jesus comes to us “full of grace [i.e., compassion] and truth [i.e., conviction]” (John 1:14).  Both conviction and compassion are needed in a Christian’s response to homosexuality.  This means that our homosexual neighbors, friends, and family members deserve both our love and kindness as well as our candid thoughts and concerns.

With this in mind, just as we are compelled by Holy Scripture to show compassion toward those trapped in homosexual sin, we are also compelled by Holy Scripture to state our conviction that homosexual activity is sinful.  The apostle Paul writes pointedly:

[People have] exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:25-27)

Please notice two things about Paul’s statements, inspired by the Holy Spirit, concerning homosexuality.  First, at the root of the sin of homosexual practice is the sin of idolatry.  The apostle argues that homosexual relationships exchange “the truth of God for a lie” and worship “created things [i.e., sexual desire] rather than the Creator.”  Sexual sin, along with every other sin, tries to do no less than dethrone God and crown our own desires as supreme, regardless of and in contradiction to God’s will!  It is an affront against the First Commandment:  “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).  Second, Paul clearly sees homosexual activity as morally unacceptable.  Words such as “indecent” and “perversion” in verse 27 make this clear enough.  Moreover, in verse 24, Paul calls homosexual activity a “sinful desire,” “sexual impurity,” and “degrading.”  Scripture’s conviction on the practice of homosexuality is unequivocal:  it is sinful.

The Marriage Model

President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is merely the latest in a long line of attacks resulting in the slow erosion of respect for the biblical model of marriage.   Skye Jethani of Christianity Today explains:

The church was silent when state after state passed no-fault divorce laws.  These bills essentially removed the state from any interest in preserving or defining marriage.  No fault divorce laws defined marriage as an agreement between two individuals that may be entered or dissolved as the individuals desire without state interference or prejudice.[2]

The final sentence is key.  For if marriage is defined civically as merely “an agreement between two individuals that may be entered or dissolved as the individuals desire without state interference of prejudice,” the state is stripped of its ability to offer any definition of who those two individuals are and the kind of commitment those two individuals make.  Is marriage between a man and a woman?  A man and a man?  A woman and a woman?  Is it entered into under the assumption that it will be a lifelong union?  None of this is defined à la our states’ no-fault divorce laws.  Thus, so-called gay marriage is merely a consequential progression of the ambiguous marriage laws already on the books.

The Bible is not nearly so ambiguous.  Its stance is clear:  marriage is meant to be a life-long covenant relationship between one man and one woman until death parts them.  This is part and parcel of God’s created order: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  This created order is reiterated and reinforced by Jesus Himself:  “Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

The desire of Christians, then, should not be only to stand against same-sex marriage while loving homosexual people, but to stand for biblical marriage, being defined as the union between one man and one woman.  This means that we ought to raise the alarm not only over same-sex marriage, but over adultery, pornography, divorce, abuse, and anything else that impugns the biblical model of marriage where one woman and one man commit to each other, become one flesh through sexual intimacy, and serve, honor, and love each other.  Indeed, every married Christian should strive to attain this model in his or her marriage.  Marriage is God’s gift to us, bestowed in love, and is intended to be both an example of His love for us (cf. Ephesians 5:31-32) and an opportunity for us to experience the blessing and joy of loving each other.

Civic Policy and the Divine Order

When President Obama made his comments supporting same-sex marriage, more than one evangelical Christian rushed to his defense.  Consider this from an evangelical blogger:

Supporting gay marriage is not supporting sin. I know it is hard to grasp, but this matter has nothing to do with whether or not homosexuality is a sin. If it does, then you are probably being inconsistent since there are lots of things that Christians consider “sinful” that they do not legislate against. For instance, if God wants us as a nation to live by His laws, why are we okay supporting the freedom of religion? Shouldn’t we be out trying to ban other religions? If we are okay with freedom of religion, which is a law that basically mandates that our country allow for idolatry (according to the Christian), aren’t we being hypocritical?[3]

At first glance, some may find this argument compelling.  If we support legislation against gay marriage because of our Christian belief that homosexuality is a sin, what other legislation are we required to support?  Is insisting on a federally mandated Christianity an inextricable consequence of supporting a traditional definition of marriage in our civic law as this blogger suggests?

It is important to understand that legislation supporting traditional marriage is not theologically identical to federally mandated Christianity.  The difference between the two can be found in the distinction between general revelation and special revelation.  General revelation is that which can be known apart from Holy Scripture simply by observing God’s created order and the moral implications of this created order.   Another name for this is “natural law.”  Many of the Ten Commandments fall under this category of natural, moral law.   For instance, our society still recognizes that murder runs contrary to natural, moral law.  Likewise, lying, stealing, and (before the no-fault divorce laws cited above) even adultery has been considered by society-at-large to run contrary to this law.  Thus, one does not have to be a Christian to accept and adhere to natural, moral law because this law is written on the hearts of all people apart from Scripture and faith in Christ (cf. Romans 2:14-15).  In light of the universal character of this law, there are (and always have been) legal consequences in our civic system for actions which contradict natural law.

Homosexual practice and its immorality fall squarely within the realm of general revelation and natural, moral law.  Consider again Paul’s argument against homosexuality in Romans 1:

Women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:26-27)

Once more, note Paul’s language.  He speaks of “natural” and “unnatural” relations.  “Natural” relations are those within heterosexual marriage while “unnatural” relations are those that are homosexual.  In this passage, then, Paul does not argue against homosexuality using a divine command, but using creation’s natural order.  Thus, same sex marriage is contrary to natural, moral law.  And if we as a society honor natural, moral law in instances such as murder, stealing, lying, and the like, why abandon such a precedent when it comes to marriage?

Special revelation is a different matter.  Special revelation refers to that which can be known only through the Bible and has to do with God’s specific and special plan to redeem humanity from its sinful condition.  General revelation, then, encompasses all people while special revelation is found exclusively in the Old and New Testament Scriptures and declares a specific message of salvation through Christ.  Thus, though Christians can support legislation that is broadly moral and applies to all according to the divine ordering of creation, we put ourselves in a precarious position when we demand civic laws that are specifically Christian in nature because faith in Christ cannot be coerced by legislation, it can only be shared by our witness.  This is why, while standing against same-sex marriage, Christians do not demand legislation that forces people to worship the Triune God.  Worship of the Triune God can be brought about only by faith in the gospel and not an edict of the government.

Authority and Autonomy

The way in which the news media has reported President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage has been quite telling concerning the way many of us often craft our moral views.  Consider the following from CNN:  “A Gallup Poll released Tuesday indicated 50% of Americans believe same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as valid, with 48% saying such marriages should not be legal.”[4]  Many will cite polls like this one to make the case for the moral acceptability of gay marriage, making morality a mere function of democratic enterprise.  Indeed, President Obama even cited a democratic acceptance of homosexuality, albeit in an anecdotal way, as part of his reasoning for endorsing same-sex marriage.  Consider again his statement:

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.[5]

President Obama’s reasoning for same-sex marriage is simply this:  because he knows many people who are practicing homosexuals and are in committed relationships, same-sex marriage must be allowed!

As Christians, we must recognize this kind of reasoning for what it is:  the expression of an individual moral autonomy that has influenced the thinking of President Obama as well as many in our society.  This autonomy refuses to believe in any authority outside of itself.  Blogger Rod Dreher summarizes:

This is the fundamental problem we face when we argue over gay marriage, abortion, contraception, and so forth. It’s not about rights, not really; it’s about what it means to be a person, and what is the ultimate source of morality.[6]

The fact of the matter is, for many people, “the ultimate source of morality,” as Dreher calls it, is nothing more than an individual’s own sensibilities and sensitivities.  In other words, there is no standard of morality external to each individual.  All morality is merely a personal construct, erasing absolute truth.  This view of morality, of course, runs directly contrary to the Christian moral imperative which sees moral standards as external, rooted in the divine order and, finally, in God Himself!  As Jesus says, “No one is good – except God alone” (Luke 18:19).  God is the one and final standard of goodness and morality.  And He reveals His standard to us through His Word.

Moreover, when our culture’s autonomous morality is coupled with a selfish hedonism, the results are predictable.  Many people cannot imagine a God who would not want them to be happy.  If homosexual activity brings them such happiness, the argument runs, such activity cannot be wrong.  Statements such as, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25) are either ignored or rejected as impediments to personal fulfillment and happiness.  Denying personal and sinful desires in deference to Christ and His call is clearly out of step with our prevailing culture autonomy.

As Christians, we are called to witness to the vanity of such hedonistic pursuits.  Even when denying oneself is difficult – especially in the arena of sexual desire, be that heterosexual or homosexual desire – we are called to declare the message that pursuing any desire in a way that is not consistent with God’s design will ultimately lead a person into choices that violate both divine law and basic moral constraints.  True fulfillment and satisfaction, along with the strength to overcome our old, sinful nature, can be found only in Christ.  As Paul writes, “My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).  And as Jesus promises, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  Everything we need for fullness of life is found in Christ!

It is our prayer that this statement serves as a guide to clarify both the biblical record and its natural, moral law corollaries on same-sex marriage.  We believe such a stance is foundational and necessary to the decent order and function of society-at-large.  We hope, as well, that this statement can be of help to those seeking to share with others a charitable Christian perspective on this issue.  We remain committed to both the biblical conviction against same-sex marriage and the biblical mandate to compassionately share Christ’s love with all people regardless of sexual orientation.

Additional Resources

If you would like additional resources which address President Obama’s statement endorsing same-sex marriage from a Christian perspective, you can consult the following:


[1] Rick Klein, “Obama Declares Support for Gay Marriage” (5.9.12), http://news.yahoo.com/obama-announces-his-support-for-same-sex-marriage.html.

[2] Skye Jethani, “Obama Endorses Same Sex Marriage – Now What?” (5.10.12), http://www.outofur.com/archives/2012/05/obama_endorses.html.

[3] Jared Byas, “I Still Stand as an Evangelical for Gay Marriage” (5.9.12), http://jbyas.com/2012/05/09/i-still-stand-as-an-evangelical-for-gay-marriage/.

[4] Phil Gast, “Obama Announces He Supports Same-Sex Marriage” (5.9.12), http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/09/politics/obama-same-sex-marriage/index.html.

[5] http://news.yahoo.com/obama-announces-his-support-for-same-sex-marriage.html.

[6] Rod Dreher, “Same-Sex Marriage & Post-Christianity” (5.8.12), http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/2012/05/08/same-sex-marriage-post-christian/.

May 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm 2 comments


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