Posts tagged ‘Same-Sex Marriage’

The Supreme Court Takes the Cake

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Credit: Ted Eytan

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court rendered a verdict on a case that pitted a cake shop owner against a same-sex couple.  Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado declined to bake a cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins when, in 2012, they married in Massachusetts and asked Mr. Phillips to craft a cake to celebrate their union.  Mr. Phillips cited his Christian commitments concerning marriage as the reason he could not, in good conscience, provide a custom cake for this particular celebration.  The case went to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled in favor of Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins.  The verdict was subsequently appealed and finally found its way to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court found in favor of Mr. Phillips, but also took great pains to offer an extremely narrow ruling.  Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy reasoned:

The case presents difficult questions as to the proper reconciliation of at least two principles.  The first is the authority of a State and its governmental entities to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services.  The second is the right of all persons to exercise fundamental freedoms under the First Amendment …

Whatever the confluence of speech and free exercise principles might be in some cases, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality … When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.

Justice Kennedy cited an example of the State’s lack of “religious neutrality” by quoting one of the persons on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission who first heard this case:

Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be – I mean, we – we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination.  And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to – to use their religion to hurt others.

Justice Kennedy responded to this characterization of Mr. Phillips’ faith with a stinging decrial:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical –something insubstantial and even insincere.  The commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.  This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s antidiscrimination law – a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.

This case is yet another example of the tension between Christians’ desires to live and operate, both at home and in the workplace, in ways that respect historic Christian norms concerning human sexuality and same-sex couples’ desires to freely practice their views concerning human sexuality, which includes the ability to ask a business to create a product that accords with their views and serves their needs.  This ruling does not resolve this tension.  Instead, it leaves the tension squarely intact while siding with Mr. Phillips in this instance seemingly simply because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission denigrated Mr. Phillips’ faith in an egregious and offensive way.

Christians will most certainly continue to be faced with these kinds of cases, questions, and tensions.  How we respond is critical – both for the sake of our faithfulness and for the sake of our witness.  Here, then, are two things to keep in mind when these cases, questions, and tensions arise.

First, we must remember to respect everyone simply because they are someone. Regardless of how a Christian may feel about same-sex intimate relationships theologically and personally, respecting others with whom a Christian may disagree is not only generally kind, but explicitly commanded in Scripture: “Show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17).  A Christian’s basic respect for others and gregarious treatment of others should not be fundamentally contingent upon others’ belief systems or moral commitments.  Instead, it should be first based on their foundational statuses as creatures crafted in God’s image.  As the philosopher Charles Taylor puts it in his book, Sources of the Self:

The original Christian notion of agape is of a love that God has for humans which is connected with their goodness as creatures … There is a divine affirmation of the creature, which is captured in the repeated phrase in Genesis 1 about each stage of creation, “and God saw that it was good.”

The simple fact that God has made someone should be enough to command a certain amount of respect, for everyone is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Second, we must remember to be empathetic to those with whom we disagree.  I have had many conversations with Christians who are scared that those in LGBTQ communities are out to trample their rights and destroy their faith.  This leads them to sometimes marginalize and demonize these communities.  I also know many in LGBTQ communities who worry that some Christians are out to destroy their communities and condemn them to hell.  They do not see Christianity’s objection to same-sex practices as part of a broad ethical stance on human sexuality generally, but as an attack on the very core of their identity specifically.

What would happen if we entered into each other’s fears?  Might it change our fears?  Might it move us beyond myopic court battles over whether it is legally necessary to bake cakes for each other?  I have no doubt that some Christians are out to get LGBTQ people and that some in LGBTQ communities are out to get Christians.  For the rest of us, however, a little empathy can go a long way.  Christians can advocate for a certain set of sexual ethics while still comforting those who feel threatened or marginalized.  Those in LGBTQ communities can continue to advocate for fair and respectful treatment for themselves without attacking the sincerity of Christians who have questions and concerns about the helpfulness and morality of the sexual revolution.

Christians must continue to tell the truth and live according to the truth in a world that is full of confusion.  The truth is that human sexuality is not indefinitely malleable.  It is a gift from God that is to be celebrated guardedly and gladly in the context of a commitment in marriage between a man and a woman.  But at the same time Christians must care about this truth, we also must care for people.  This means sharing God’s truth, modeling God’s truth in our actions and decisions, listening to others’ fears and, yes, even objections to this truth, and loving them – not because they always do the right thing, but because love is the right thing to do.

June 18, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Flowers, Same-Sex Marriage, and Responding with Grace

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Barronelle Stutzman enjoyed catching up with her friend, Rob Ingersoll.  He would stop by regularly to order custom bouquets from the mom-and-pop flower shop she operated, Arlene’s Flowers, and the two would talk about what was going on in their respective lives.  Everything was coming up, excuse the pun, roses, until one day when Rob stopped by Arlene’s Flowers to ask Barronelle to provide custom flower arrangements for his upcoming wedding to his partner, Curt.  According to a deposition by Ms. Stutzman, she responded by putting her hands on Mr. Ingersoll and saying, “Because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I can’t do that.”  Understandably, he walked away feeling deeply hurt and rejected.  After that, it didn’t take long for a legal firestorm to explode.

The two men sued Arlene’s Flowers for $7.91, the price it cost to drive to another florist.  Then, on February 16, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that Ms. Stutzman was in violation of state law, claiming that Ms. Stutzman’s actions constituted “socially harmful conduct” and that the “government views acts of discrimination,” which is how they regarded Ms. Stutzman’s refusal of service, “as independent social evils.”

In a situation like this, it can be difficult for a Christian to figure out how to respond.  Indeed, there has been a fair amount of debate among Christians over whether or not it is biblically-appropriate to provide certain services, as Barronelle Stutzman refused to do, for a same-sex wedding.

Regardless of what an individual Christian may or may not be willing to accommodate in a situation like this, Ms. Stutzman’s overall response to this controversy has been charitable and exemplary.  Shortly after the controversy erupted, she penned an opinion piece for The Seattle Times.  She opened:

Rob Ingersoll will always be my friend. Recent events have complicated – but not changed – that fact for me.

Ms. Stutzman began with a statement of love for Mr. Ingersoll.  Even if he sues her, she will not disown him.  She will always be a friend to him, even after she felt she had to have a conversation with him that was, in her words, “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

She continued by explaining her desire to balance her moral convictions with her Christian love:

I knew he was in a relationship with a man and he knew I was a Christian. But that never clouded the friendship for either of us or threatened our shared creativity – until he asked me to design something special to celebrate his upcoming wedding.

If all he’d asked for were prearranged flowers, I’d gladly have provided them. If the celebration were for his partner’s birthday, I’d have been delighted to pour my best into the challenge. But as a Christian, weddings have a particular significance…

I’ve never questioned Rob’s and Curt Freed’s right to live out their beliefs. And I wouldn’t have done anything to keep them from getting married, or even getting flowers. Even setting aside my warm feelings for them, I wouldn’t have deliberately taken actions that would mean the end of being able to do the work I love or risk my family’s home and savings.

I just couldn’t see a way clear in my heart to honor God with the talents He has given me by going against the word He has given us.

Whatever decision another Christian would have made if faced with a situation like this, it is difficult to disparage Ms. Stutzman’s desire to be both faithful to her moral convictions and loving toward her friend.

In the news, much has been made about what this story and the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling mean for religious freedom.  The questions this controversy raises about religious freedom are indeed monumental.  And the court’s ruling a couple of weeks ago is certainly open to vigorous questioning.  But in the midst of all the thorny Constitutional and legal quandaries, let’s not miss the simple story of a woman trying to live out her faith in Jesus in front of others and for the sake of others.  For this is how each of us are called to live – loving even those with whom we deeply disagree us and seeking to winsomely hold forth to the world the use of God’s gifts – like the gift of marriage – according to God’s intentions.

Whatever ultimately comes of this case, this call will not change.

February 27, 2017 at 5:59 am Leave a comment

Same-Sex Marriage, Transgenderism, and Oppression

LGBT Rally

It was the fourth-century church father Gregory of Nazianzus who wrote of God:

The three most ancient conceptions concerning God are Anarchia, Polyarchia, and Monarchia … Anarchy is a thing without order; and Polyarchy is like civil war, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly.  For both of these tend toward the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution.  But Monarchy is that which we hold in honor.[1]

Gregory is speaking here of the Trinity and is making the point that the persons of the Godhead are not independent of each other and unconcerned with each other in a kind of divine anarchy, nor are they vying for power against each other as in a polyarchy.  Rather, God is a monarchy – at perfect peace in Himself as three persons and one God.  This is why the apostle Paul can describe the nature of God as “not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Order is essential to the nature and character of God.  And the order of God shows up in that which He creates.  What God creates during the first three days of creation, for instance, are filled in a very orderly fashion by what He creates in the second three days of creation (cf. Genesis 1:1-26).  When God makes human beings, he orders them as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27).  When God assigns humans work, He creates an order that places people as the crown and the stewards of what He has made (cf. Genesis 1:28-30).  And when God creates human relations, He outlines an order by which “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Recently, the transgender movement has been grabbing headline after headline.  A simple search on The New York Times website revealed that, in one 24-hour period, the paper ran 19 stories dealing with transgender concerns.  This comes on the heels of a pitched battle over same-sex marriage last year.  In both cases, these battles have been framed in terms of oppression.  To deprive gay couples of the ability to legally marry was oppressive, same-sex marriage advocates argued.  To ask questions about whether or not a person’s internal gender identification can be unflinchingly determinative of someone’s being as a male or female has also been called oppressive and discriminatory.  In light of such oppression, the argument has gone, what is needed is freedom – freedom to marry whoever you like and freedom to be the gender you perceive yourself as, even if your biological sex does not match your internal orientation.

Because freedom is such an integral part of the American ethos, to argue against freedom – whether that be the freedom to marry or the freedom to transition from a male to a female or a female to a male – seems almost sacrilegious.  But what if our starting category for these debates over same-sex marriage and transgenderism needs shifting?  What if we need to begin by asking questions not about oppression, but about order?  What if the orderliness of God and of His creation really does have a bearing on the way we order our lives – not in an oppressive way, but in a graciously protective way?

If not being able to marry who you want and live as the gender you internally identify as is oppressive, then it makes sense to push toward freedom.  Freedom is, after all, generally a good thing.  But if these strictures are not about oppression, but about order, then to push against them is not to strive for freedom, but to create chaos.  And chaos can be disastrous.

Scripture is clear that true freedom must be guided by Godly order.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  It is the orderly Spirit who must be present to give and to guide good freedom.  Freedom without such order degenerates into chaos.  And, as any number of Middle Eastern countries can tell you, chaos makes a society ripe for an oppressor.  To deny a Godly order is to invite an oppressive orderer.

In our current discussions over transgenderism and same-sex marriage, it is perhaps worth it to ask ourselves as Christians:  for what are we striving?  Are we striving to oppress, marginalize, and stigmatize the LGBT community, which has, sadly, admittedly happened in the past, or are we striving to call all people to a helpful order for their lives?  The first goal is clearly self-righteous and sinful.  But the second is Godly and needed – even if many outside the Church don’t see it that way.

_______________________

[1] Gregory of Naziansus, Select Orations 29:2

June 6, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

A County Clerk, Gay Marriage, and What’s Right

Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images

Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images

It’s not often a small town county clerk becomes a household name. But Kim Davis has managed to pull of just such a feat after going to jail last week for refusing to issue marriage licenses from her office. The Washington Post reports:

The Kentucky clerk drew headlines for refusing to issue marriage licenses to all couples, gay and straight, after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that same-sex couples have the right to marry. An Apostolic Christian, Davis has said it would violate her faith to put her name on a marriage license for two people of the same sex.

She was sued by several gay couples and was ordered by [Judge] Bunning to begin issuing the licenses this week. When Davis defied the judge’s order, the couples asked for Davis to be held in contempt and fined.

But Bunning decided to jail Davis, saying fines would not be sufficient to compel compliance because Davis’s supporters could raise money on her behalf.

“The idea of natural law superseding this court’s authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed,” Bunning said.[1]

Not surprisingly, demonstrators, both in support and in protest of Mrs. Davis, gathered outside the courthouse where she was sentenced:

Ashley Hogue, a secretary from Ashland, held a sign outside the courthouse that read, “Kim Davis does not speak for my religious beliefs.”

“This is so ugly,” she said, wiping away tears. “I was unprepared for all the hate.”

Demonstrator Charles Ramey, a retired steelworker, downplayed the vitriol.

“We don’t hate these people,” he said, holding a sign that read, “Give God his rights.” “We wouldn’t tell them how to get saved if we hated them.”[2]

On the one hand, I am somewhat puzzled why Mrs. Davis, if she could not in good conscience carry out one of the duties for which state taxpayers are compensating her, did not simply resign her position.  After all, for Mrs. Davis to refuse to issue marriage licenses not only to same-sex couples, but to all couples, and to make it incumbent on the clerks who work for her to follow suit hardly seems the best way to handle a personal religious objection, as Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, makes clear in this thoughtful article.  Mrs. Davis explains her reasoning in the USA Today article: “‘If I left, resigned or chose to retire, I would have no voice for God’s word,’ calling herself a vessel that the Lord has chosen for this time and place.” Her explanation begs the question: would she really have no voice for God’s Word if she was not a county clerk? Couldn’t she be a witness for Christ in ways that involve less emotional, political, and rhetorical volatility than refusing to issue marriage licenses?  And what does she do when she has to perform other duties that could – and perhaps should – violate her conscience, such as legally licensing divorces for couples who are not splitting for biblically appropriate reasons?  I’m not sure I completely understand Mrs. Davis’ thinking.

On the other hand, I am also not unsympathetic to her plight. Here is a government worker who was thrown in jail because she, in her vocation, was seeking in some way to abide by what God’s Word says about sexual boundaries. A Christian theology of work says that no matter what we do, we ought to view ourselves as “working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).  Mrs. Davis seems to be trying to put this theological truism into everyday practice.  I should also note that she does not appear to have arrived at her practice of refusing to issue marriage licenses lightly. Her conversion to Christianity came on the heels of a history littered by broken marriages and broken hearts. Since her conversion, however, she has maintained a strong stance on biblically informed sexual standards.

This is one of those theologically, ethically, legally, and relationally thorny situations that seems to be increasingly common in our day and age. As Christians, how do we respond? Is Kim Davis right? Or should she resign if she cannot, in good conscience, issue marriage licenses?

In the book of Daniel, we meet a man who, like this county clerk, held a government job. Indeed, he held a very prominent government job. Under the reign of the Persian king Darius, this man Daniel “so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (Daniel 6:3). Daniel’s upward mobility, it seems, was virtually limitless until, one day, as he went about carrying out his duties, the laws of the land changed in a way that violated his conscience:

The administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered – in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” So King Darius put the decree in writing. (Daniel 6:6-9)

As a worshiper of the God of Israel, Daniel could not, in good conscience, follow the king’s edict to pray only to the king – even though he was serving the king as a public official. So what does Daniel do?

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:10)

I have sometimes wondered why Daniel didn’t try to negotiate some sort of compromise. Couldn’t he have stayed downstairs in a private room to pray to the true God rather than going upstairs and kneeling before an open window so everyone below would know exactly what he was doing? Couldn’t he have simply put off praying altogether in order to comply with the edict without committing idolatry against his God? After all, the edict was only in place for thirty days. In this instance, Daniel, according to his conscience, could do neither. He had to live out his faith, even if his faith was in conflict with his vocation as a public official and his status as a citizen of Persia.

You probably know the rest of the story. Daniel’s sentence was not just a jail cell, but a lions’ den. Daniel was willing to go to his death for his confession of faith. But, miraculously, “God sent His angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions” (Daniel 6:22).

It’s not difficult to draw parallels between Daniel’s story and Mrs. Davis’ story, save that we do not yet know how Mrs. Davis’ story will end. For us who are looking on, there are a couple of lessons I think we can take away from Daniel’s story. First, Daniel’s refusal to obey Darius’ edict had nothing to do with a political victory and everything to do with theological fidelity. I fear that, all too often, we can prioritize the politics of an issue like gay marriage specifically over a biblical theology of what marriage is generally. Any stand that we make must never be simply for the sake of winning a political battle, but for the sake of staying true to God’s Word. If people perceive that our theology is being leveraged merely as a means to political power, they have every right to be cynical of us and even angry at us. I’m fine if people, as I’m sure they did when Daniel was willing to be thrown to the lions, question our sanity, but we must never give people a reason to question our spiritual sincerity. Second, Daniel served and supported his governing authorities in every way he could until he couldn’t. This couldn’t have been easy for him. The Persians, after all, were pagans who shared none of Daniel’s theological commitments. But rather than fighting them, Daniel supported them in his work. He took a contrarian stand only when it was theologically necessary. I worry that, because of the deep suspicion and animosity that plagues our political system, we have become so devoted to fighting with each other on every front that we have lost our ability to take credible stands on the most important fronts. This is not to say that we can never be engaged in the political process – we do live in a democratic republic, after all – but it is to say that our governing authorities are first and foremost gifts from God to be supported by our prayers rather than political enemies to be bludgeoned by our anger.

As I think about Mrs. Davis’ predicament, I can appreciate her stand.  My prayer for her, however, as she remains steadfast in her opposition to a Supreme Court ruling, is that she also proves stalwart in her commitment to love those with whom she disagrees. A strong stand may be good in the face of a morally untenable court decision. And she has decided to take one. But love – even when it’s love for the gay couple that comes walking through the door of the county clerk’s office – is absolutely necessary for Godly, gracious relationships.  I hope she’s decided to give that.

______________________________

[1] James Higdon and Sandhya Somashekhar, “Kentucky clerk ordered to jail for refusing to issue gay marriage license,” The Washington Post (9.3.2015).

[2] Mike Wynn and Chris Kenning, “Ky. Clerk’s office will issue marriage licenses Friday – without the clerk,” USA Today (9.3.2015).

September 7, 2015 at 5:00 am 3 comments

What I Write, How I Write It, and Why

Photo credit: zen / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Credit: zen / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

I write my message on issues. I craft my message on hunches.  I hope with my message to make a difference.

These past few weeks have presented me with no shortage of blog-worthy issues to write about. Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner. The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On the heels of a horrific racist shooting in Charleston, a fight erupted over whether and how to display the Confederate flag. And a secret video of a Planned Parenthood executive talking casually about abortion and the sale of aborted fetal tissue was posted on YouTube. It’s been a busy few weeks.

As I’ve been thinking about the crush of big stories that have occupied my thoughts, something struck me regarding two of the stories about which I had written. When writing about the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, my tone was gentle and measured – concerned about ethics, but much more focused on people. When writing about Planned Parenthood, my tone was considerably more straightforward and even somewhat brash. Why?

I write my message on issues. I craft my message on hunches. I hope with my message to make a difference.  I just had a hunch that the legalization of same-sex marriage needed to be handled more delicately and interpersonally than the revelation that Planned Parenthood is allegedly selling aborted organs for possible profit. So I crafted my message accordingly.

Ontologically, of course, what advocates of same-sex marriage and Planned Parenthood promote is very similar. Both tout what one author has referred to as “erotic liberty” – that is, freedom to have sex with whom you want, when you want, and how you want without having to consider or confront the natural and reasonable entailments sex brings with it. Sexual desire and autonomy, in this view, cannot be impeded by gender or pregnancy.

But even though these two issues share a great deal in common ontologically, they are perceived in very different ways epistemologically in our broader culture. In other words, the nature of these things in and of themselves may be quite similar, but how people think and talk about these things is very different.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, there is a tension between what people know and what they believe. Most people know that Christianity places certain ethical restrictions on sexual expression. But many cannot bring themselves to believe that these ethical restrictions are reasonable or loving. In a world where it is increasingly difficult – and, I would add, unnecessary and unreasonable – not to have friends, relatives, coworkers, or, at the very least, acquaintances who are in same-sex relationships, believing that such relationships deserve anything less than a full-throated endorsement is a hard pill for many to swallow. After all, so many of these relationships seem healthy and loving. So even if many know what Christianity teaches about sexual intimacy, they have a hard time believing it’s right.

Likewise, when it comes to Planned Parenthood and abortion, there is also a tension between what people know and what people believe. In this instance, however, the tension is inverted. The problem is not so much with what people intuitively believe as it is with what people intellectually know. Most people – regardless of their political sensibilities – can’t help but be viscerally repulsed by Planned Parenthood executives who talk casually about a “‘less crunchy’ technique to get more whole specimens” of aborted organs for medical research and how, when performing an abortion, you have be “cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax … I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.” It is hard to escape a nagging belief that this is not an outright assault against human dignity and life. This is why, when I address abortion, I quickly strip away sterile terms like “dilation,” “curettage,” “aspiration,” “evacuation,” and “Intrauterine Cranial Decompression” to write in frank and sometimes startling terms about what abortion really is: the ending of life in utero. Intuitively, people already believe this. I want people to intellectually know, however, just how grave the situation really is with Planned Parenthood.

In the case of same-sex marriage, people often know what Christianity says about sexual ethics, they just have a hard time believing it. When it comes to Planned Parenthood’s practices, there are a great number of people, including those who publicly support abortion, who believe what Planned Parenthood has done is wrong.  They just don’t always know how to express their concerns in ethically rigorous ways.

It is this distinction between knowing and believing that shapes how I have written over these past few weeks. When I write about same-sex marriage, I know I am diving into deeply held and tender beliefs about love. So I address these beliefs tenderly. When I write about Planned Parenthood, I know I am up against a whole host of euphemisms meant to obscure what people actually know about abortion. So I cut through the euphemisms with candor. In the first instance, I’m trying to persuade people to believe a little bit differently. In the second instance, I’m trying to bring attention to something I think people need to know more about.

When we address today’s cultural issues as Christians, it is important to ask ourselves: What are we trying to do? Are we trying to change a belief? Are we trying to share important knowledge? And how do the ways in which we address broad concerns actually make things better?

Though my approach to addressing society’s issues du jour is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive, I hope it proves helpful – at least in a limited way.  Frankly, it is born out of a concern that, all too often, when addressing cultural controversies, many of us who are Christians wind up doing little more than beating our chests in self-righteous indignation at our culture’s ills. The problem is, even if this makes us feel better, it does nothing to make our world better. Our world needs gentle persuasion when it believes wrongly. It needs frank facts when it lacks knowledge. But most of all, it needs people who are devoted not only to being right about issues, but to doing good for our world. This is why Jesus, during His earthly ministry, wasn’t just right in what He said, He was righteous in how He said it. And thanks to Him, the world has never been the same.

May Jesus’ legacy be evident in our lives.

July 27, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Obergefell v. Hodges

Arguments at the United States Supreme Court for Same-Sex Marriage on April 28, 2015When the Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges[1] a little over a week ago, the verdict was not a surprise, but the reaction was fierce. Facebook profiles and even the White House went rainbow. Crowds gathered to celebrate and shed tears of joy. Others were not nearly so jubilant. Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values, issued this statement:

This decision is the most egregious form of judicial activism of our time, overriding the votes of over 50 million voters, including millions in Texas. The freedom to democratically address society’s most fundamental institution is central to ordered liberty. The Court has taken that freedom from the people.

This decision has no basis in the text of the Constitution and will never be accepted by millions of Americans and Texans that understand that marriage, by nature and God’s design, can only be the union of a man and woman, husband and wife, mother and father. No decision by five judges can ever alter this fundamental truth.[2]

As Christians, it can be hard to know what to say or where to stand. The day the Supreme Court’s decision came down, I offered some initial reflections with the promise of more to come. These are those further reflections.  Though these reflections will not address every concern, they will hopefully give us a way to begin to think theologically and pastorally about what has transpired and help us live together peacefully and in love.

What Scripture Says

As I said in my original blog on the Supreme Court’s decision, we need to remain committed to what Scripture says about all our relationships and, specifically, those that are deeply intimate in nature. But we also must remember that our understanding of Scripture can prove fallible. It is easy to fall prey to foolish and sloppy readings of what the Bible has to say on sexual ethics, making assumptions that are based more in our cultural biases than in careful exegetical study. As William Eskridge explains in an article for The New York Times:

Biblical support for slavery, segregation and anti-miscegenation laws rested upon broad and anachronistic readings of isolated Old Testament passages and the Letters of Paul, but without strong support from Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels … The current … view that God condemns “homosexual behavior” and same-sex marriages comes from the same kind of broad and anachronistic scriptural readings as prior support for segregation.[3]

Although Eskridge’s assumed contradiction between what Jesus taught and what the rest of the Bible has to say is problematic, he does have a point: we have not always gotten things right.

So how do we avoid misreading Scripture on gay marriage? To begin with, we must never handpick proof texts without context. Arguments made in this way against gay marriage are not only not persuasive theologically, they’re also not solid methodologically.  A better hermeneutical case for traditional marriage can be made by looking at the sweep and scope of Scripture. Scripture begins (Genesis 2:24) and ends (Revelation 19:7) with the wedding of a bride and her groom. Jesus affirms both God’s creational and eschatological pattern for this staid institution as one that involves a husband and a wife (Matthew 19:4-6). Furthermore, when this pattern for marriage is abandoned, the results never seem to be good (e.g., Genesis 29:30; 1 Kings 11:1-4; Proverbs 6:32; 1 Corinthians 5:1-2).

The Bible does not seem to be nearly so concerned with condemning gay marriage specifically as it is with affirming God’s design for marriage generally – and not just because deviating from God’s design is morally wrong, though, in fact, it is, but because it is personally hurtful. Marriage has not only a moral design; it has a compassionate intent. This is why God institutes it as gracious gift (cf. Genesis 2:18).  The biblical authors do not want people to miss out on God’s gracious gift by not receiving it as God intended it.

How We Say What Scripture Says

When speaking about same-sex marriage, we must stop embracing and employing over-the-top rhetoric. A pastor who threatens, even if figuratively, to immolate himself if the Supreme Court allows for nationwide gay marriage sounds, and perhaps is, insane. A preacher who drops the Supreme Court’s ruling to the ground while holding up the Bible in the middle of his sermon may garner some applause from the faithful, but such grandstanding does nothing to contribute to civil and important conversation.

I can’t help but wonder if the reason we are sometimes tempted by such silly stunts is because we live with a kind of Chicken Little apocalypticism. We really are afraid the sky is falling. But it is not.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissenting opinion, writes:

The Court today not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now. I agree with the majority that the “nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.” … As petitioners put it, “times can blind.” … But to blind yourself to history is both prideful and unwise.

This is well stated. As Justice Roberts notes, the ethical stances of yesteryear are by no means unimpeachable, but they are also not meant to be thoughtlessly discardable in an assumed inexorable evolutionary advancement toward ethical nirvana. C.S. Lewis would remind us that there is a “great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of [our] own age.”[4] In other words, we’re not as enlightened or as advanced as we think we are.

Thus, we need not fear. What is happening now does not mean the sky is falling. It simply means that history is marching – sometimes wisely and sometimes foolishly. Waiting and watching to see what comes of “the heady days of the here and now” is a much smarter – and, I would add, much less stressful – option than opining about the doom and gloom that lurks around the corner.

Religious Liberty and Pastoral Care

Sadly, the Supreme Court’s decision does raise real concerns over religious liberty. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy addresses these concerns, writing:

It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

Justice Kennedy’s synopsis of the First Amendment is interesting – and troubling. He sees the First Amendment as protection to “teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to … lives and faiths.” This is well and good. But what happens when teaching faith translates into living faith?  What happens when those living their faith intersect with others who do not share their faith? Does religious protection now extend only to what one says?

The dissenting justices are rightfully skeptical of the majority’s nod to and definition of religious liberty. Justice Thomas Roberts warns:

Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons … as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” … Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.

It is not just paranoid, martyrly Christian activists who have concerns about the narrowing parameters for religious liberty; it is a sitting justice of the Supreme Court. So how are we to respond?

I would argue that the best way to respond to threats against religious liberty is not politically, but pastorally. This is not to say that Christians should never be involved in politics; it is only to say that politics must take the backseat to love. So rather than offering a political strategy, allow me to share a few pastoral thoughts.

What makes same-sex marriage an ethically thorny issue is that it simultaneously aches for something that deserves our compassion while also promoting something that calls for our repudiation. On the one hand, the desire to marry someone to whom you are attracted, whether that person is of the same or opposite sex, represents an ache for companionship. This is why, in the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy writes:

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.

Such an ache for companionship not only ought to be acknowledged, it ought to be affirmed by all Christians. God did, after all, create us as relational beings (cf. Genesis 2:18). Desire for companionship, regardless of whether you are gay or straight, is perfectly normal and natural.

At the same time the Bible affirms the human ache for companionship, however, it also puts boundaries on how such companionship is expressed erotically and, ultimately, maritally. Again and again, the Bible calls upon us to control our desires – erotic and otherwise (cf. James 1:14-15). Though such a call runs quite contrary to the spirit and sensibilities of our age, Christians must continually uphold this call in their speaking and living.

Tragically, many Christians have spent so much time proclaiming that people must control their desires that they have forgotten to empathize with them in their loneliness. People who are romantically attracted to the same sex have much deeper and more profound needs than just sex. They, like everyone, need love, which we must be prepared to show, lest we defy the command of Christ: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Ultimately, we must never forget that same-sex marriage involves people. Indeed, though nearly everyone knows the Supreme Court has now legalized nationwide same-sex marriage, few know the particulars of the plaintiff who brought the case. Jim Obergefell married John Arthur three months and 11 days before John died. Jim knew their marriage would not last long because, when they wed, John was in the dying throws of ALS. Jim brought a case to the Supreme Court because he wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse on John’s death certificate in Ohio, a state that heretofore did not allow for gay marriage. Their story, then, is not just about gay marriage. It’s also about sickness, sadness, and caregiving – all universal themes to the human experience. Even as we express concerns over same-sex marriages, we must also recognize that the people in them do things that are noble and hold values that we share.

Decrying same-sex marriage with protests, rallies, and votes will not change hearts. Love, however, just might. So let’s focus on what people actually need – not a vote against them, but love for them. In today’s milieu of broad and fierce political support for same-sex marriage, it is probably our only option. But that’s okay. Because it just so happens that it’s also our best option.

_________________________________

[1] Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (2015).

[2] William Eskridge cited by David Walls, “Supreme Court’s Marriage Ruling Is Egregious Attack On Democracy, Will Never Be Accepted,” Texas Values (6.26.2015).

[3] William Eskridge, “It’s Not Gay Marriage vs. the Church Anymore,” The New York Times (4.25.2015).

[4] C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” The Weight of Glory, Walter Hooper, ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 59.

July 6, 2015 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Pastoral Statement on Today’s Supreme Court Decision

Supreme Court InteriorAs you have no doubt probably heard by now, the Supreme Court of the United States has legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. At the church where I serve, the pastoral team is working to address some of the issues involved in this ruling, including potential repercussions for religious liberty, but for now, I want to offer three brief thoughts.

First, as Christians, we need to continue to be committed to what God’s Word has to say about all our relationships and, specifically, those relationships that are deeply intimate in nature. Sexual integrity is a much bigger issue than whether or not you support same-sex marriage. Sexual integrity touches nearly every aspect of our lives – from how we guard our purity if we are single to how we appropriately relate to our coworkers and friends to how we hold sacred our most intimate moments if we are married.  God has put boundaries on sexuality and intimacy not to needlessly constrict us, but to lovingly protect us.

Second, as with any major cultural shift, reactions to the Supreme Court ruling have been instantaneous and, in many cases, extreme. Some are unfettered in their celebration. Others are paralyzed by deep trepidation. As Christians, we are called to be measured in our words and peaceful in our hearts, always and fully trusting in God’s providence. We do not need to join our culture in its emotionally charged reactions. We have nothing to fear.

Third, please remember to be kind in any reactions and responses you may offer to the Supreme Court ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissenting opinion, expressed concern about how we regularly feel “compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate.” As Christians, we should never sully others. We can disagree with others without hating them. On Facebook, I saw a simple thought that expresses well how we ought to dialogue about the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage: “We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.” This is exactly right. For this reflects the very character of our God. As the Psalmist says, “God’s merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endures forever” (Psalm 117:2). Like our Lord, may we be people of merciful kindness and truth. It’s what our world needs – now, more than ever.

June 26, 2015 at 1:33 pm 7 comments

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