By Michael Wren
At last night’s association meeting, I spoke briefly about how the church ought to respond to the challenge ahead of us in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court decision. As everyone knows, last week’s decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act allows the Federal government to recognize same sex couples who have been married in states where such a union is legal. The decision itself is a great loss to social conservatives, and particularly to evangelical Christians. But the rationale behind the decision is even more damaging. According to Justice Kennedy, the Defense of Marriage Act violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing the equal protection of the law to every citizen, because congress illegitimately concluded that same-sex marriage is immoral. With this ruling in place, it seems to be only a matter of time before all states are forced to recognize same sex marriage. And with same sex marriage legal, polygamy would logically seem to follow close behind.
If you read blogs on a regular basis, you will know that there is no shortage of reflection upon how the church ought to respond in the days ahead. While there is no need to say what has already been said by numerous people, I do want to expand my comments from last night and offer a few specific recommendations:
- Churches should not panic. The church has never needed the state to define Christian marriage, and thus the church does not need the state to rescue it. Our calling from God is still the same, and the gospel has not changed. Jesus is still risen.
- Churches must continue to demonstrate a passion for lost souls. Simply because the world considers homosexuality to be a legitimate lifestyle does not change the reality that the Bible declares it be to a sinful choice and that sin (in whatever form) destroys souls. The church can expect to confront more broken families than it has ever seen before, and it must confront them with both truth and grace. We cannot cease to care, to pray, and to share.
- Churches must evaluate their marriage policy. This will be imperative for a couple of reasons. First, with homosexuality (and eventually polygamy) legalized, churches will need a clear paper trail to substantiate their reasons for refusing people who request to be married. The day might come when churches are penalized for discriminating against such people, and when that day comes we will have to count the cost. Either way, though, we need to state clearly whom we will marry and under what circumstances. Second, we must admit that churches have not done a good job of promoting and strengthening Christian marriages. Even without the sweeping victories of the homosexual movement, the institution of marriage seems to be on life support in this country. Divorce and cohabitation are common (both in our communities and in our churches) and have been treated with nothing more than an awkward silence. While we must be persistent about speaking the truth into difficult situations (and doing so in love), we must also do a much better job on the front end. In far too many cases, churches allow virtual strangers to use their facility as long as they pay a nominal fee and meet with a representative of the church. Marriage, like everything else, ought to come under the discipline and watch care of the church. Marriage is, in fact, an extremely important component of people’s spiritual lives. Churches ought to craft policies that help ensure that “Christian marriage” is, in fact, Christian—and that the couple understands the importance of commitment to the church.
We are entering an era in which the church has the opportunity to stand out from the world dramatically—or face the reality that it has lost its gospel witness entirely. The church of the first few centuries was dramatically successful at demonstrating the power of Christ to the corrupt Greco-Roman society around it. They endured much persecution and ridicule, and they tended to take holiness very seriously, but they also earned a lot of credibility and won a great many converts. The issue at stake is really not that of saving Christian marriage, but rather of saving the credibility of our gospel witness. If we are willing to count the cost, we will experience an outpouring of God’s power.