GAY MARRIAGE: 5 THINGS WE MUST NOT DO
Written by Doug Ponder on June 30, 2015
Gay “Marriage” Is Legal. Now What?
On Friday, June 26th, 2015, a date which will live in infamy, the United States Supreme Court legalized gay “marriage” in all 50 states. (The quotes denote a marriage falsely so called, same-sex mirage, if you will. For the courts can grant same-sex marriage licenses, but only God can create a marriage.)
Blogs and articles of all kinds have been written on the subject, but I’m writing specifically as a pastor to the people in my church. Here are five things that our church must not do as we consider how to respond to momentous event:
1. Don’t be apathetic.
Within hours of the court’s decision, TIME magazine had already published an article calling for churches, schools, and other religious organizations to be stripped of their tax exemption and federal funds if they refused to go along with the new decision. Pastors will be threatened with jail time and heavy fines for “hate speech” (as they will call it). Christians may lose their jobs at work if they are overheard saying things the Tolerance Police do not like. These things will not happen tomorrow, but they will happen eventually. The first amendment cannot save us.
But Christians don’t just care about what this law means for us; we care about how this law will hurt others—and it will hurt others. People love to say, “If it doesn’t hurt you, then why do you care?” That’s like saying if the speeding car will hit that blind man up the road, why should you care about it? The answer is obvious: love. If we love others, then we can’t be apathetic about this law for their sake.
The Supreme Court’s amicus brief (a long name for an even longer document) stated that gay couples deserve the right to experience lifelong happiness and belonging in marriage, just like heterosexual couples. Yet anyone who depends upon marriage to fulfill them and make them feel loved all the time is in for a world of pain. God says people are longing for the eternal happiness and love of Christ, though they don’t know it (Eccl. 3:11). Meanwhile, our Supreme Court has pointed weary searchers to the fragility of human relationships—about fifty percent of which end in divorce—instead of pointing them to Jesus. The heartache and pain from this confusion is precisely why we cannot be apathetic about this.
The passing of the law also matters because it approves what God condemns. The unrepentant cannot inherit the kingdom of God, the Lord tells us. People will never repent of what they don’t consider sin. And that goes for all sins, by the way, not just homosexuality. So, then, why highlight homosexuality in any way? Because at this moment in history, the acceptance of homosexuality is celebrated with terrifying excitement, being praised as the chief sign of cultural “progress.”
As Martin Luther was rumored to have said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”
So instead of being apathetic, pray. Pray for churches and for all the people who will face the brunt of legal attacks for their faithfulness to Christ in opposing same-sex marriage. And pray for confused gay men and women everywhere who have been lied to instead of being loved.
2. Don’t panic.
At the other end of the spectrum from apathy is the panic of sheer terror. If you find yourself here, you will do well to remember that Jesus is still on the throne. Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not (Acts 17:6-7). So do not fear the mocking derision of those who chant, “You’re on the wrong side of history.” There is a wrong side of history to be on, according to Jesus. But it’s not the one they think it is. “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23). And if we know the true end of history, then we need not fear. As Russ Moore of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission rightly said, “The Supreme Court can do a lot of things, but they can’t get Jesus Christ back into the grave.”
So our response should be the same as the words of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the battle hymn of the Reformation: “Though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us. We will not fear, for God has willed His truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him. That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth. The Spirit and the gifts are ours, through Him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever!”
At some point in my life I may get into trouble for simply repeating the words of Jesus about marriage, which reinforce God’s design of one man and one woman in covenant together (Matt. 19:4-6). I have already been called a bigot. I will probably face fines, and one I may be separated from my family in jail for a time. And all of that’s OK. “We will not fear for God has willed his truth to triumph through us…The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever!”
Lastly, we must remember that the world is always dark—that is why the Light of the World had to come into it. We are not facing anything the early Christians did not already experience. In their day, men had open affairs with slave girls and with young male sex partners. Unwanted children were left on hilltops and dumped down wells. People were forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of others. Christians were mocked and killed for their faith. And yet, as Carl Henry reminds us, “The early church didn’t say, ‘Look what the world is coming to!’ They said, ‘Look what has come into the world!”
So do not panic, instead trust. The Light has come into the world, and the darkness will never overcome it (John 1:5). Jesus’ resurrection cannot be reversed. If you are with him, you are on the right side of history. Trust Jesus, and entrust your life to him. He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him (Heb. 7:25).
3. Don’t be self-righteous.
The truth always matters, but it’s important to remember what it matters for. You do not gain brownie points with God for being right about moral issues. Opposing same sex marriage is not the way, the truth, and the life—Jesus is.
What I’m saying is this: you can be right about sin and wrong about grace, and according to Jesus, that is the fast-lane on the highway to hell. Christians do well to remember the words of Jesus in Luke 18 at all times, but especially at a time like this. Allow me to change a few words to help drive home the point.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a conservative churchgoer and the other a gay man. The conservative churchgoer stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—and especially like this gay man. I go to church twice a week and give a tenth of all my money.’
“But the gay man stood off at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that the gay man, rather than the conservative churchgoer, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The point is not that “being gay is OK.” The point of this parable, and the original it was taken from, is that the conservative churchgoer was right about sin but wrong about grace. He supposed that because he knew right from wrong, he was good with God. But that is not how grace works. Grace is a gift given to those who know they cannot earn it—even by their knowledge of right and wrong. None of this means we should stop speaking the truth in love about sin (see points number 1 and 2 again if you are confused about this). But it does mean that we should resist the urge to be confident in our own righteousness. We are only saved by grace.
So instead of falling into self-righteousness, fall back on grace. For if you a driven by the belief that Jesus died for the world because he truly loves the world, then that will change you. Grace makes us gracious with others, like one beggar telling the next beggar where to find bread.
4. Don’t lose your focus.
The countless articles, op-ed pieces, and blog posts (even like this one) can cause us to lose sight of the places where God has called us. We need to remember that the greatest impact we will have is under our own roofs, in our own neighborhoods, and in our church.
Let’s face it. If the decisions of five unelected judges can impose sweeping laws like this, then we should give up the pipe dream of being able to fix the world through the arm of politics. Voting Republican will not save us now. (It never could.)
None of this is to say you shouldn’t vote or voice your opinion. But we cannot lose our focus. Whatever effort you might have put into political activism for this cause will reap far greater dividends if you were to focus on the people God has placed around you. As it turns out, relationships are the real place of change anyway. Laws have never been very good at affecting the heart—they only stem the tide for a little while as they keep us in check.
So if you really want “to make a difference,” a goal every Christian should have, then start with your friends, co-workers, neighbors, and church family members. If every Christian had employed this approach, there likely never would have been a push for gay marriage in the first place. For in that scenario, millions more people would have seen the love behind the ethics of the Christian worldview. They would not be interacting with “ideas” but with real people who love them, care for them, and talk about truth with them.
That is the strategy the early church used when they turned the world upside down. They were a minority. They had no political power. They were hated by all, but they responded with love for all. As we find ourselves in increasingly the same place, we must follow their example.
So instead of focusing on making a difference at the national level, focus on the people right next to you. They are the “neighbor” that Jesus tells us to love. And G.K. Chesterton reminds us, “We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor.” Keep serving. Keep talking. Keep loving.
5. Don’t forget the gospel.
Paul tells us that “the gospel is the power of God” (Rom. 1:16). It is the good news that Jesus is Savior and Lord—not anybody else, thank God. That message alone has the power to save, and this is the most important point to remember.
It’s not laws, not Facebook rants, and not even friendships that will ultimately save the world—just Jesus, and he brings about salvation through the gospel of his grace. That is the one thing that must not be lost in this mess. It would be a great tragedy for God’s people to be distracted from the source of his saving power. We must never forget that the gospel is the only hope for the world, really and truly, not theoretically. The people in your home, on your block, at your job, and in your city need Jesus. “How can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? (Rom. 10:14).
So don’t forget the gospel, and keep pointing people to Jesus.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.