Evangelicals and the Supreme Court Decision on Same Sex Marriage

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This is not a post on what the Bible says about homosexuality, but about some of the questions I believe Evangelical Christians should consider when thinking about the Supreme Court’s decisions on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act this week.

What kinds of ethical stances should we as Evangelicals seek to implement as laws of the land in our democratic society? I would assume most Evangelical Christians support adherence to speed limits in school zones for the sake of our children’s safety. Would we put forth laws that keep men and women from living together outside marriage? Why or why not? From a different angle, should we seek to support gay couples who have determined to live in monogamous relationships and who have adopted children, giving them stable homes rather than leaving them to grow up in foster care?

What kinds of ethical stances should we as Evangelicals take and seek to enforce in our post-Christendom, democratic society? While Christianity is still the largest representative religion and Evangelicalism may very well still be the largest Christian movement in the States, we live in a society where a large percentage of people don’t share what many Evangelicals take to be biblical stances on homosexuality.  Rather than seeking to enforce those biblical interpretations on others, would it be seen as more discerning to make sure that we of these convictions are not forced to go against our consciences to officiate same sex marriages in our churches?

What kind of missional stance should we Evangelicals take? Is it our kingdom calling to make America a Christian nation or the church truly Christian, including its approach to sexual conduct? Jesus did not make it his calling to take back Jerusalem, but to lay down his life for Jerusalem and build his church—a church that cared for people of alternative lifestyles while calling its members to holiness in all its relationships.

One of the fears I have as Evangelicals address the issue of the legalization of gay marriage is that we might win a battle on shooting down gay marriage and lose a war of building caring relationships with gay people. Will Evangelicals influence the morality of our culture on marriage most by enforcing its overarching view on marriage on others or by embodying its ethic of marriage and family in a way that demonstrates loyal love and self-sacrifice?

For a recent discussion of my view on what Scripture says about homosexuality and how Evangelicals should address the issue, see the chapter “Homosexuality, Holy Matrimony, and Hospitality” on this subject in Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths (Thomas Nelson, 2012).

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and The Christian Post.

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About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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  • Jeremy

    Amen. There has got to be a distinction for evangelicals between support gay marriage in the church and the legalization of gay marriage. I think one of the side effects of our past inter-mingling of church and state has made the line blurry for many. I would never support a “Gay Christian Marriage” but I would allow for gay non Christians to Legally be married. Why would I expect someone who is spiritually dead to be sensitive the sexual guidelines of the creator? That would be insane!

    The only problem with the legalization of gay marriage is that it will almost certainly be used as a weapon against us in the future. We will be labeled as haters guilty of crime if we don’t hire such people, or allow them to marry in our churches. It is already happening in the UK and Canada. Regardless, less fight for the legalization to disagree in church rather than fighting people who are far from God.

    • Matt Thornton

      “such people”? wow.

    • http://area43.net Jose

      “The only problem with the legalization of gay marriage is that it will almost certainly be used as a weapon against us in the future. ”

      It already IS being used against us!
      Look at these religious institutions being co-erced and punished by the government for not recognizing the new redefinition of marriage.


    • Sven

      I am confused by the statement “I would never support a ‘Gay Christian Marriage’ but I would allow for gay non Christians to Legally be married.”
      If a Christian church wants to perform a same-sex marriage (and there are many who would love to), would you want to abolish that under the law?

      I find your usage of “spiritually dead” as a synonym for “non-Christian” to be nasty and vile, but to each his own.

      • Riley

        Well, he can’t abolish that under the law b/c that violates the boundary b/w church & state. What he probably means is that he won’t support gay & lesbian couples, who are also professing Christians, to have their unions blessed in the church (they’re more than free to go to gay-affirming churches, but forget about conservative congregations). If they want to get a marriage license & have the union legalized, he’s fine with it.

  • rvs

    I especially liked the tone of this part: “Rather than seeking to enforce those biblical interpretations on others, would it be seen as more discerning to make sure that we of these convictions are not forced to go against our consciences to officiate same sex marriages in our churches?”

    Thanks for this lucid post.

  • christopher erik

    @ Jeremy, what I find “insane” is the way that those who name Christ are not aware of how deep our democratic ideology has marinated our brains. This representative government of ours after years of erosion to media and the marketplace has created a stubborn illusion that this is a direct democracy – one that is not governed by law but by opinions – . I’m all for dialog and public discourse but your statement, “I would allow for gay non Christians to be married” is proof positive for what I’m saying. I mean no disrespect what so ever when I say, who cares what you would allow in terms of marriage, taxes, speed limits, gun-control etc.? We all have opinions but it seems to me at the end of the day “the rule of law” will govern the state, regardless of your or my opinion. The question I would like to raise is, does God have two “laws,” one for the world and one for the Church? Is Jesus just Lord of the “church-world” and Ceasar is Lord of the “secular world?” I think that we would agree that slavery or murder or thievery or adultery are things that affect Christians and Pagans alike. It seems to me that homosexuality, like abortion, has become so thoroughly politicized that even the church is incapable of treating it as anything other than mere ideology (conservative v. liberal) – which would include an appeal to “tolerance” and “love” – a way to resolve our societal dysfunction with our “best instincts.” How does it even matter in any significant, concrete or observable way if you or I or the author “support” or are “against” gay marriage? As Dylan says, “We live in a political world . . .”

    • bdrushal

      The question is not whether God has two laws. The question is whether secular, state sanctioned “marriage” should be defined by what someone’s interpretation of what it says in the Bible, the Koran or any other religious doctrine. There is a separation of church and state in our country for good reason and it is time it is applied in this situation.

      • Kevin Ross

        You misrepresent the doctrine of separation taught by the founders. The establishment clause and the separation of church and state doctrines were originally intended to prevent encroachment of government into private religious affairs, and not to prevent people from having political views that are religiously motivated. EVERYONE has religious views, even if they are anti-religion. The fact is that many state-sponsored American traditions have their origins in Christianity because the ideas made good sense and the founders would not have had it otherwise. We should be concerned to preserve a view of marriage that has been good for society, if not fully accommodating of their ignorant self-centered agendas.

    • Luke

      YES! I have been trying to formulate my own opinion on this subject for quite some time and you hit the nail on the head for me…well said

  • Jesse

    I wonder if all of these high-minded slightly left Christians would have the same passive perspective if government was trying to arrest control of and re-define the meaning of the Eucharist or baptism. Attempting to segregate “civil” marriage from Biblical marriage is a false dichotomy that cannot be found in Holy Scripture. Jesus didn’t seem to have a hard time speaking truthfully against the slightly left view of divorce held by the Pharisees in Matthew 19, but rather reminded them about what God intended and what they ought to be doing. It’s hard to believe that Multnomah tosses out superior theologians and thinkers while keeping this guy around. He must make money for them.

  • http://www.oliviathemagicalgourd.com/ Elinor Dandrea

    The love of Christ is a given. However, when His principles are co-opted to suit mankind, we should no longer use Christ as the measurement of what civilization or politics chooses to see as Christian. When you love Christ, rather than asking Christ to love your life style, you then know the difference. Natures God made a man and women for the purpose of co-creation. Just like the natural laws of electricity need a male and female plug and socket to produce light! Love has little to do with that. Whereas the marriage of a man and woman can create life, its for this reason and this reason alone, that its considered sacred. Civil unions should be accepted as mans civil right…but just as Christ said render to Ceasar..so too should the principle law of nature which has used the term marriage for its co-creative principles, should remain sacred as well.

    • John Evans

      So no marriage for the celibate or medically sterile then? Post-menopausal women need not apply?

    • Matt Thornton

      Umm … Not qualified to comment on the theology of your post, but a couple of things about the ‘natural’ point:

      1. Plug/socket not necessary for electricity/light. See Thunderstorm in Wikipedia as a starting point.
      2. Your broader idea that the creation of new life as the sole rationale for marriage is, well, a little narrow, I think. If a man and a woman marry, but one of them is infertile, are they not really married?

      Logic. You’re doing it wrong.

  • http://www.reachingyouth.wordpress.com Andrew Kruse

    I agree with this statement:

    “One of the fears I have as Evangelicals address the issue of the legalization of gay marriage is that we might win a battle on shooting down gay marriage and lose a war of building caring relationships with gay people. Will Evangelicals influence the morality of our culture on marriage most by enforcing its overarching view on marriage on others or by embodying its ethic of marriage and family in a way that demonstrates loyal love and self-sacrifice?”

    Let me say this: I do not affirm or approve of homosexuality or gay marriage. What I do think is that regardless of what the state says we have a responsibility to hold our convictions, preach the gospel, and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work of convicting people of sin and to follow or reject Christ. People who are sinners and sin are merely filling their job description…so it shouldn’t be a surprise to us that they want to justify themselves in any court- God’s or the U.S. Supreme Court!
    There are really no winners in this issue. If conservative Christians “win” our efforts to have relationships with the LGBT community will be stunted and tarnished, but if “those people” win then we will continue to hear the rhetoric that we will lose our religious freedom due to gay marriage. Can we find a way to lovingly oppose gay marriage, while still seeking to be exempt from performing gay marriage if it becomes a nationally legal thing? I also think if we’re going to be anti-gay marriage that we need to be pro-marriage in our churches. That means that we need to provide every opportunity to help couples strengthen their marriage and not opt out for divorce. Jesus came to redeem and reconcile people. As Christians we should seek to be a part of redeeming and reconciling the LGBT community to the gospel, not tearing them apart. We should seek to redeeming and reconciling broken families and marriages, and have a united stand that says that divorce is an affront to God. Repentance and relationship with God and others is what we need to call to. That is my opinion…sorry it took me so much space to respond!

    • TerriMi

      I think evangelicals who compromise God’s word for the sake of having a hearing with those who are not yet believers, water down both the gospel as well as the command of Jesus to make disciples. Firstly the gospel does not just save us from the eternal consequences of our sins, but also from a life of sin. The gospel includes the idea of repentance from our sins now. When we become Christians, we don’t just receive forgiveness and we don’t just receive His love. We also receive Jesus as Lord. A person who does not want to even think about living a life that is pleasing to God is one whose salvation or interest in salvation should be held in question. Has he really received God’s grace that works in us to will and to do His good pleasure? The writings of the apostle John contain many examples of this idea. Secondly the command of Jesus to make disciples is watered down. Disciples are ones that are followers, not mere assenters to some idea. This requires a life of dedication to working the idea out into living. Evangelicals who get people to pray a prayer or to assent to the idea of God’s love for them tend to leave this part out. And then there are some Evangelicals that even this is not their goal. They shoot for just getting as many people to think well of Christianity as possible. What a grand mistake to lower Jesus command in those ways for then many people may well think they are quite saved, when actually when they get to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, they will not have the wedding clothes.

  • Pingback: My opinion on the whole Marriage Equality issue | Reaching Youth for Christ()

  • https://www.facebook.com/braylonknotts Braylon

    I would like to ask Evangelicals this: How do you justify imposing your religious mandates on a governmental body? Especially when that governmental body clearly specifies it will be separate from The Church. This is no innocuous statement. America was FOUNDED (I won’t get into the whys of Kings and whatnot) on this principle and they WERE devoutly religious men they penned this. Moreover, marriage, for all its religious roots, is NOT A RELIGIOUS MATTER. A preacher can hold the ceremony, but the GOVERNMENT decides it’s validity. When you divorce, a reverend does not determine who gets what; THE STATE does. Your marriage license does not come from the church; IT COMES FROM THE GOVERNMENT. The benefits you receive for that marriage and in the unfortunate instance that one of you dies come down from a FEDERAL LEVEL. From BEGINNING TO END marriage is ruled by a governmental body; a body that has pledged TOTAL EQUALITY. In case it’s not your vaunted Bible, that means NOT DISCRIMINATING BASED ON AGE, GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR DISABILITY. If you don’t want gays to marry, that is perfectly within your right. But you need to take marriage out of a NON DISCRIMINATING GOVERNMENT so you can dictate it with all the discrimination your religion entails and let your tithes and offerings provide your own benefits. You are trying to “have your cake and eat it too” as it were; only you don’t want anyone else to have cake, pie, or cookies either.

  • Danny Chocklett

    It is hard to believe we are even having this conversation. Wow if you are are a christian then you know God is against homosexuality. Look God brings up nations and He also brings them down. If the American people says that homosexuality is acceptable then they have made there choice. The church needs to understand this is a first step in taking away the 1st amendment right of the christian.
    The gay marriage thing isnt all about the money. They want to be in the norm and they want any one who speaks against there lifestyle silenced under hate speech. Satan is fighting this battle hard and people are falling for it and many churches. We say that our rights come from God but we want to create rights that spits in Gods face. Believe me God will not be mocked and what this country sows it will also reap. If God didnt spare Sodom and Gomorrah what makes us think He will spare America?

    • Joshua

      The problem with using the Sodom and Gomorrah argument is that the book of Isaiah explicitly speaks of the sin of Sodom, mentioning greed, arrogance, and ignoring the poor. (Looking at it from that angle, the U.S.A. is definitely in trouble!)
      But while you can undoubtedly make a biblical argument against homosexuality, it’s hard to justify using that rationale to ban gay marriage via secular laws. We haven’t imprisoned adulterers or banned divorce, so, as gay marriage proponents would say, why do Christians want to ban gay marriage?

      • Kevin Ross

        Christians want to ban gay marriage for many good reasons. The primary reason is this: the family is where each generation learns its values and core beliefs which determine the character and focus of their adult life. From a Christian point of view, homosexuality is spiritually poisonous and inherently spiritually fatal. To choose to allow people to bring the next generation of children up in this environment would no doubt result in widespread if not wholesale abandonment of historical American values which have protected and preserved this nation from fatal moral decay.

        • Kevin

          Kevin. Have you considered that about 600 yrs ago we invaded a land where they traditions of the sovereign’s of the American native country held thousands of same sex marriages. We invaded, brought disease, and the disease of biblical superiority to a peaceful people. Christian malice just as today. Brought a trail of tears, death and destruction. The two spirit person is what they called gays. They were held in high esteem as special gifted. All it takes to make good people do horrible things is Religion. Keep that in mind. Where was god for the first 1700 yrs of the church? Tell us what the church did for the first 1700 yrs that it deserves a place in public policy today?

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

    Thank you for pointing out the difference between Christendom and Christianity.

  • Joshua

    Good article. I think one of the major image problems with the Christian/gay marriage conversation is that many Christians are not treating gay marriage question as an issue between consenting adults. Many Christians are voting against an issue that they disagree with and *yet* have no personal stake in nor are there any clear-cut victims; and gay marriage proponents see that.

    Christians give many reasons or cite various studies, like the viability of children raised by gay couples, the “slippery slope” argument that people will want the right to marry their siblings, etc., the discussion of homosexuality being a “choice”, even the need to protect the nation from another “Sodom” event. Many of these reasons are besides the point, badly argued, or ill-founded. At the heart of it, it’s a purely biblical issue.

    The question then becomes, should Christians continue to campaign against same-sex marriage based on solely religious reasons? Which then begs the question, isn’t it problematic to flagrantly use one’s religion to influence secular laws, and hypocritical to proudly tout the Constitution along with the bible when discussing other political issues?

    Now I agree somewhat with the fears about marriage being “re-defined”, and agree that it can potentially put churches in a troublesome situation if they were forced to marry gay people. In these cases, I think the best thing Christians can do is pray … and keep on praying. And not necessarily to stop gay marriage, but to ask for God’s help in being effective witnesses for Jesus and His grace in the midst of a society that may be hostile to your beliefs … sometimes because of our actions.

    If these recent years are doing anything, they’re crumbling the uneasy and now-shaky relationship between religion and politics … and honestly, I don’t think that’s *all* bad.

    • Matt Thornton

      Are churches *required* to perform any marriages at all? If I’m a Wiccan and my fiance is a Catholic (both currently legal) can I force an evangelical church to perform our marriage ceremony?

      I’m just not following the logic.

  • Brad

    Thanks, Paul, for this helpful piece. The good thing about it is that, rather than laying out your position, you just ask us evangelicals to think through some key questions in forming our opinions on this important issue. The disagreements in the responses illustrate that we still have a lot of thinking to do. For my own part, I will just comment on a couple of themes. First, I am once again reminded of the tendency we evangelicals have to want to have a powerful influence in shaping public law on the basis of our religious commitments, yet when the government enacts policies that may impinge upon our moral convictions, we scream for separation of church and state. The relationship of church and state is a complicated one in a modern democracy. We just can’t simplify it into questions like, “does Jesus have two laws?” A couple of problems with questions like that are, first, Jesus was working in a theocracy, we are not. Thus, the law of God and the law of the land are, in fact, not one for us. Second, and related to the first, Jesus is calling the community of faith/people of God to godly living, not the Roman government. To complicate things even more, we Christians have always pushed for public legal enforcement of Christian moral behavior in some cases, but not others. For example, we believe living together apart from marriage is wrong, but we seem to have no interest in passing a law against it. We need to look more carefully at the basis upon which we should push for legal enforcement of morals on some issues, but not on others–an issue that is also too complicated for me to address here.
    One more thing–I suggest that the church simply get out of the legal end of marriage altogether. Let the state handle the legal end of marriage, issue marriage licenses, etc. The church should be dealing with marriage ceremonies simply as an activity of the church, for the members of that church, who want a ceremony that honors the values of the Bible. Then the government cannot tell us who to marry or not marry, since our marriage ceremonies will not have any legal weight and will therefore legally discriminate against no one.

    • christopher erik

      Hey Brad,
      My question regarding “two laws” is a question that cannot be so easily dismissed by an appeal to anachronism. The Jews living under Roman rule in 1st century Palestine were living in an radical “split-screen” reality: paying taxes to Caesar, subject to the whim of Pilate – “the law of God and the law of the land” was certainly not “one” for the Jews of Jesus day. I don’t see Jesus in the Gospels working in a “theocracy” (Herod’s massacre, Samaritan Woman, Judas the Zealot, Centurion soldier, Zacchaeus the tax collector, the Crucifixion). My question was one that I think is inevitable for a Christian and I’m not sure how it is either naive or reductionistic – I’m just asking the question – I’m not even pretending to answer it. I think my point is that our democratic ideology creates a condition where everyone thinks they can have their cake and eat it too (politically, morally, economically) but it’s based on another premise that there is only so much “cake” to go around. When it’s all said and done, History will be written by the “winners” but in light of Good Friday, Christ doesn’t overcome the world this way. Yeah, the tough thing about Jesus for me is that when it comes to “winning,” he’s always been “loser.”

  • rs

    Are you really ready to enter the Brave New World? Once a gay relationship is recognized as a “marriage” all kinds of other legal questions open up. For example, picture two of the craziest looking dudes from the Pride Parade deciding that they want to have children, because now they can legally be recognized as parents——through surrogate mothers, of course, selling out the special relationship of mother and child to get money. Is that your vision of family in your Brave New World? You also have to look at the practical result, not merely the arguments of “rights.”. It’s opening a can of worms.

  • kevtrsk

    Its great to see a good conversation here. I just wanted to way in on the ultra conservative opinion I keep seeing. This goes way back to those who think they know god and the heart of god. To the beginning of the writing of the bible. Those who again think they knew the heart of god and what god thinks. 1700 yrs of the church in destruction mode because they knew what god thought. Those who wrote in the bible because they knew what god thought. Still they can not know what god thought based on a book written by men who thought they knew what god thought. I think that if there is a god he would have intervened at the first crimes of the church. Who still feel justified because of a book written and rewritten by man to remove his conscience from his need to rule by savage means. The bible is a book of myth. This is why it should never be used to rule. It belongs on a shelf next to spider man., Batman and wonder woman. Those comics no more prove the existence of those super heros than the bible proves the existence of god. The End.