Tag Archives: Christian views on marriage

Discrimination, Religious Liberty, and the Gospel

By Michael Wren

Much has been made over the past few days about Arizona bill 1062, which Governor Jan Brewer vetoed.  That the bill was vetoed was not surprising.  By the time the bill reached the governor’s desk both political parties and numerous major businesses within the state were urging it.  The governor argued, in part, that the bill was worded very broadly and could have led to some unintended consequences.  For the moment neither her reasoning nor her decision to veto the bill concern me.  I am much more concerned about the conversation that has erupted around the bill.

As anyone who has paid attention to the news is aware, many conservatives were urging for the passage of the bill through the legislature in order to defend religious liberty—so that those who disagree with same sex marriage as a matter of religious principle would not be forced to violate their conscience by participating in such a ceremony.  This is an enormously important issue.  Baptists have been at the forefront of religious liberty since the beginning of the Baptist movement in England in the early 1600s.  Early Baptists in the United States were crucial in championing the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the U. S. Constitution.  Religious liberty is essential to a free society and has been a cornerstone of the American experiment.  And as of now, both sides on this issue are striving to maintain the inviolability of religious liberty.

hot doughnuts

Three of my favorite words

Many are perplexed and, honestly, troubled, that conservative Christians would claim that the right to choose not to do business with a gay couple is a matter of religious liberty.  I would argue that, based on the teachings of Scripture, Christians ought not refuse to do business with gay couples in every situation.  In most business ventures, the owner can transact business with his or her customers without any knowledge or approval of the customer’s lifestyle.  If I owned a doughnut shop (which oddly enough would be kind of awesome), I could not in good conscience refuse to sell doughnuts to gay people.  They are created in the image of God, and by God’s common grace they have the opportunity to eat the blessed manna that we call doughnuts just like everyone else.  God does not, in his word, declare that gay people cannot buy, sell, and make a living in this world.  To refuse them service is to make a distinction that God does not make.

But making a cake for their wedding I would consider a different matter, since God explicitly declared that marriage is between a man and a woman.  Doing business in this situation would require participating in a falsehood, and to do so would be unethical.  Thus the freedom to refuse to be a vendor for a gay wedding becomes an issue of religious liberty.

But is this an act of discrimination?  A friend of mine, in a blog posted Thursday, complained that Scripture should not be used as a cover for discrimination.  She pointed out that Christians used Scripture to defend slavery, support Jim Crow laws, and assert that the AIDS virus was a curse sent by God to destroy homosexuals.  I cannot agree more that Scripture ought to be interpreted properly, and I concur that the examples she cited are important to consider as we wrestle with this moral revolution happening before our eyes.  In each case she cited, the parties involved relied on erroneous interpretations to support their claims.  We should consider them for a moment.

In the case of slavery, antebellum Southerners mistook the description of slavery as a reality in the worlds of the Old and New Testament for the assertion that slavery was a God-ordained institution.  Just because God recognized the existence of slavery and revealed laws for the proper management of the institution does not mean that God approved of the institution.  It is a subtle distinction, to be sure, but an important one.  The teachings of the New Testament make clear that slavery is an institution that exists because of the presence of sin in the world.  Just because it exists doesn’t mean it’s good.  And one thing Southerners should not have missed (which reveals the depth of their blindness on this issue)—slavery was never race-based in Scripture.  Antebellum Southerners, for all of their savvy in interpreting Scripture (I focused my doctoral research on this), simply abused Scripture on this point.

Jim Crow sign

Signs like this were typical in the Jim Crow era.

Jim Crow laws were likewise supported by faulty interpretation of Scripture. The main theological pillar for segregation was the belief that blacks were an inferior race.  This, of course, was built off of the famous “curse of Ham” in Genesis 9.  But their interpretation was nothing more than wishful thinking on their part.  The curse Noah leveled against his son that had violated him was actually targeted at Ham’s son, Canaan.  The writer of Genesis includes that curse to prepare us for what will come in the books of Joshua and Judges—when the Canaanites were either destroyed or enslaved by the 12 tribes of Israel.  It had nothing to do with race at all, and certainly nothing to do with the black race.  Again, Scripture was used tragically to support segregation.  Thankfully, segregation, like slavery, has now been discredited in our culture.

Finally we should consider the claim that the AIDS virus was a judgment by God upon homosexuals—another good example of faulty interpretation of Scripture.  This claim breaks down logically as well.  If the AIDS virus was intended by God for this purpose, why has God allowed it to run rampant in Africa?  That consideration alone should cause one to reevaluate that claim.  But turning our attention to Scripture, we must be careful how we interpret God’s activity in this world.  Prophets in the Old Testament could interpret specific events as God’s judgment because of a particular sin.  Daniel did this before Belshazzar.  The nameless prophet did this before Jereboam (1 Kings 13), and there are plenty of other examples.  All of these examples had one thing in common—God specifically spoke to the prophet about that exact situation.  We do not have that revelation.  Does God work through a hurricane?  Yes.  Does God work through the spread of a disease?  Yes.  What exactly is God doing in these specific situations?  We cannot say with certainty.  We must remain humble before him.  That’s all we can say.

So, then, what do we conclude about our current ethical dilemma?  If we make a distinction (which is all discrimination is, by the way—making distinctions), it must be a distinction that God has revealed we ought to make.  If we go beyond those bounds, we treat people in a way that is contrary to God’s will.  Should Christians do business with gay people?  In general, to deny gay people business in most situations would be to deny them something that they have as much right to as anyone else.  It suggests that a gay person is less of a person than straight people are.  What about the case of being a vendor at a gay wedding?  If God has spoken clearly about marriage, then we have a different story.

The legislation in Arizona may well have been worded too broadly.  I don’t know.  Defending religious liberty is definitely a complicated matter, and standing up against illegitimate forms of discrimination is certainly important.  But denying service to gay people in order to avoid participation in a gay wedding does not seem to be an illegitimate form of discrimination, based on the Bible’s definition of marriage.  The world is changing quickly.  Christians must stand boldly for the truth of God’s word and shine the light of the gospel with love.  This is a tall order in any generation.  But it seems especially challenging in our day.

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Marriage Definitions Revisited

The cast of “Sister Wives” on TLC

Christmas is the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the coming of our Messiah into the world, God in human flesh, to bring peace between God and man and salvation to the world.  But while the Messiah’s birth reveals God’s intention of peace toward all who call upon His name, the world around us still exists in the dark of chaos.  So we cannot allow our vigilance to wane as we exchange presents and sing “Silent Night,” as a recent court decision in Utah makes clear.  Christian commentators have warned for several years that a redefinition of marriage to allow for same-sex unions would eventually topple polygamy laws all over the nation.  Late last week that began to happen.

Reality TV star Kody Brown, who is featured in the show “Sister Wives” along with his four wives and seventeen children, took the state of Utah to court over the law that he could not cohabit with more than one woman.  Utah, you may know, outlawed polygamy in the 19th century in order to attain statehood.  However, because polygamy was still practiced by many conservative Mormons, the state also passed a law prohibiting a man who was already married from cohabiting with other women.  Judge Clark Waddoups of the U. S. District Court in Utah ruled late Friday that this part of Utah’s polygamy law is unconstitutional.  Individuals are still allowed only one marriage license, but Waddoups ruled that the law prohibiting cohabitation violated Utah citizens’ First Amendment rights.  Brown is free to return to Utah with his four wives and 17 children.  The ruling built off of a 2003 Supreme Court decision (Lawrence v. Texas), and follows in the wake of numerous court rulings during the intervening years that have redefined our understanding of the Bill of Rights.  In short, Waddoups’ ruling is consistent with what Federal courts and the Supreme Court have ruled over the past ten years and is not likely to be overturned.  The redefinition of marriage is here to stay—and sooner than many thought.  For a full explanation of the case and its implications, check out Albert Mohler’s blog.

This case, won by a reality TV star, should serve as another reality check for churches.  Battles over marriage are already happening in the Indiana State Legislature.  And we are literally one court ruling away from legalized same-sex marriage and legalized polygamy.  None of this, of course changes the Bible’s teaching about marriage or the need for churches to give clear testimony about it.  However, as marriage laws change around our churches, we will inevitably be put in the position in which we are asked to conduct or hold a wedding ceremony that is contrary to biblical teaching.  The day will come when gay couples will approach a church and ask to use its sanctuary, or a family will ask to conduct a ceremony for an additional wife.  Such ceremonies will become common in the culture at large.  If our churches want to stand clearly for the biblical definition of marriage, they will have to have clear policy statements passed by the congregation.  Your marriage policy should point to your governing doctrinal statement (for most of us, The Baptist Faith and Message) and stipulate that marriages are to be between only one man and one woman.  If our convictions about marriage are challenged in court, we need to be able to demonstrate that our practices are consistent with clearly articulated religious beliefs.  I want to encourage your churches not to procrastinate on this issue.

Saving Christian Marriage

WREN-MICHAEL-39

Pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Greencastle

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.