Friday, June 26, 2015

No Reason to Despair, and Nothing to Fear - Thoughts on Today's Marriage Ruling at Supreme Court

Today's United States Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (PDF copy at the link) means same-sex marriage unions must now be recognized and allowed by all 50 states. This post is for my friends who are discouraged by today's decision. I know there are Christian brothers and sisters who don't disagree with this ruling and who feel strongly about it. For them, today is probably not a day of mourning, but right now I want to spend time with those who mourn. I think we have many, many reasons to be encouraged, so take heart.

Mourning for the Right Reasons

First, we should mourn. Mourning is the proper emotion to feel when we see people celebrating things that are harmful to themselves. When we see people embracing what the church has always warned us against, we should mourn for the state of society and for the sake of their souls. This was exactly Paul's response: "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?" (1 Corinthians 5:1-2).

What we should not do is surrender to self-pity. There is a crucial difference between mourning for the people who are chasing after emptiness by embracing same-sex marriage and simply feeling sorry for ourselves. This is not a time to despair or to surrender to the wave of depressing emotions that come along with any event that makes us feel overwhelmed and powerless. Tolkien put it beautifully in the mouth of Gandalf: "despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt." (The Lord of the Rings). We must not despair just because things turn out to be much harder than we hoped. Our confidence is not in courts or governments or cultures or civilizations. The society we have citizenship in is the kingdom of heaven, and the growth of that kingdom is not measured by things like this court decision. Focus on the souls of people, not on the shifting sands of culture.

Second, we should reject all anger and bitterness and resentment. Those are emotions born from self-pity or self-righteousness. Either they come from feeling wounded pride at being rejected and being left out, or they come from being indignant and self-righteous about the sins of others. Christian, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. There are a number of people in conservative political circles who will be venting about this decision and stirring up anger. Resolve not to listen to them. Turn off the television and the radio. Do not read what they post online. Guard your heart and mind against anyone who is spreading these emotions in the air. Give it a week before you even consider tuning in again (if you do at all). These things do not build us up in Christ.

As I was composing this earlier, I had the chance to read Russell Moore's commentary in The Washington Post. Read it. He is wise, peaceful, courageous, and practical, rather than angry.

Don't Let Love Lose

There will be many people celebrating same-sex marriages and this ruling with the phrase "Love Wins!" I fear that the reflex of many Christians will be to distance themselves so much from those who welcomed this decision that they will actually let their love grow cold. This is not a time to be uncertain about how to approach or communicate with those who embrace same-sex marriage or homosexual relationships. You do not need to agree with them to love them! Love is not dependent on agreement. This is the time to make sure that we put the love of Christ on display as purely and powerfully as ever.

Many people who have advocated for same-sex marriage will be expecting us to be bitter and hostile. They will be expecting us to entrench ourselves against them or fight back. They have been told for a long time that the opposition of Christians to same-sex marriage is based on hate and prejudice. Prove them wrong. Spend as much time getting to know them and showing them the love of Christ as you can. Don't shrink back from this because you don't know how to talk to them about this. There are many very wise and helpful resources that have been written on how to show love to someone you disagree with, including those you disagree with about homosexual behavior. Start here with The Gospel Coalition website and keep on searching there and on Desiring God and Russell Moore's blog. Get prepared to interact with people in love.

Above all, don't let the state of the civil law be a stumbling block to loving people. We are not responsible for policing people's behavior. That has never been the mission of the Church. Paul actually told us we have nothing to do with judging the moral behavior of unbelievers. (1 Cor. 5:9-13).We are supposed to preach the Gospel to all. That means you are off the hook for feeling like you have to prevent any same-sex wedding or marriage. Yes, we want to warn people against these things, and part of preaching the Gospel includes helping people become conscious of sin and how they have fallen short of the glory of God. But that is different than trying to hold them to a standard of behavior and enforce it on them. Granted, Paul makes a distinction between how we treat moral commands with those inside the Church compared with how we deal with unbelievers. But for now, consider that it is not your burden to stop people who don't believe the Scriptures from embracing same-sex marriage. It is only your responsibility to preach the love of Christ to them. Focus on that.

If you had a friend who was getting divorced for sinful reasons, you would certainly do everything you could to plead with her and reason with her not to go through with it. But even if you could sue to stop the divorce (which you can't), I doubt you would. That would change your relationship from being a friend to being an opponent. It would cross a line. The same with a friend getting re-married after an unbiblical divorce. You might not attend the marriage. But I doubt you would try to legally block it even if you could. Consider what that means for how you interact with friends embracing same-sex marriage. Your role as a Christian and friend is to show the Gospel and demonstrate love. And do it with perseverance and prayer and earnestness. But you don't have to change the law or panic if they go through with the ceremony. Loving people who are deceived by sin often does not result in their turning away from sin immediately. We have to be patient and persevere in love, showing our commitment to their good. The results are up to God. Be encouraged that His Spirit is at work, and that is what ultimately changes people's hearts. The state of the law can only hold things back for a time. The heart is where people get saved.

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