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.