“The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment . . . . The Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia.”
—John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the United States, dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges (June 26, 2015).
When the United States Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision on same-sex “marriage” last summer, it opened a legal Pandora’s Box that will have far-reaching consequences. Much has been said about the Obergefell opinion these past several months, but many people of faith have still not yet fully considered what the case may mean to them. Here is why it matters, not just to Christians in the United States but around the world.
We have already begun to see the impact on Christian bakers and county clerks, but soon everyone—students on secular campuses, soldiers, employees in government and private companies, etc.—will face similar questions, as they are pressured to choose between their conscience and conformity. In such a rapidly changing environment, every believer needs to reexamine from the Bible how God intends for us to live out our faith in a hostile world. Christ calls us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) as we share the gospel with love and conviction.
In a 5–4 decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the majority declared that the US Constitution requires every state to license and affirm “marriages” between two persons of the same sex. In reaching its conclusion, the Court invalidated all existing laws throughout the country—including many state constitutional amendments—that defined marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.
While the majority opinion acknowledged that the First Amendment still protects “those who adhere to religious doctrines,” and that such persons may, for now, “continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned,” this afterthought provided little comfort to the justices in the minority. Their scathing dissents explain why the decision is of such great concern to many Christians.
“The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage,” bristled Chief Justice John Roberts. “The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses. Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage.”
Justice Clarence Thomas declared the decision will bring “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”
Justice Samuel Alito’s forecast was just as foreboding: “I assume [after this case] that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.” Justice Clarence Thomas declared the majority’s decision will bring “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”
Could these jurists be right? Could this new advancement of “sexual liberty” actually make it more difficult to speak freely about our faith and the teachings of the Bible? What could all this mean for the average Christian—and for our children and grandchildren?
Even before Obergefell, from California to Maine, religious charities, Christian schools, and Christian-run small businesses were already being fined and punished for not endorsing same-sex “marriage.” Now, the trend has been accelerated. Increasingly, in the name of “nondiscrimination,” states are denying and withholding licenses, certifications, contracts, state accreditation, and nonprofit status simply because Christians still hold a biblical definition of marriage.
Be assured that the “hard questions” anticipated by Chief Justice Roberts are already being asked. Should a Christian charity be denied tax-exemption simply because it supports traditional marriage? Should a Christian college be denied accreditation for allowing only heterosexual couples into married housing? Should a Christian social worker be denied a professional license simply for declining marriage counseling to a same-sex couple?
While various legal and political organizations will continue to fight vigorously to preserve religious freedoms, the opposition is growing every day. Soon, everyone will be affected in one way or another.
Americans watched a real-life drama play out in Kentucky last fall, as county clerk Kim Davis was arrested and jailed by a federal marshal simply for refusing to include her name and endorsement on the state’s new same-sex marriage licenses. The court ignored her plea, scoffed at her attorney’s legal reasoning, and chose the harshest penalty possible—placing her in federal custody as an example to all. It was the first of many similar legal battles to come.
In the face of all this chaos, what should Christians do? Is it right to oppose this legal and cultural tsunami, which will eventually impact every Christian? If so, how should it be done? When we are asked to violate our beliefs, every believer needs to know—and be prepared to defend—an appropriate biblical response.
When possible, Christians should still take advantage of the legal resources God has put at their disposal, including influencing public opinion and elections or going to court. The apostle Paul was confident and forceful in demanding that the magistrate honor his political rights as a Roman who was “born a citizen” (Acts 22:28). He later asserted his right to “appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11). Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome emphasizes that the Lord instituted governments to promote good and limit evil (Romans 13:1–4).
When Paul addressed slaves regarding contentment even in their unfortunate condition in 1 Corinthians 7:21, he qualified his admonition: “
[But] if you can be made free, rather use it.” The freedom in jeopardy today—in America and around the world—is ultimately about much more than politics. It is the basic freedom to keep the door open for the spread of the gospel.
As the Davis case and others play out in the courts, all of us need to show how religious liberty is good for everyone. The US Bill of Rights lists the free exercise of religion as the first freedom, and all others are built upon it. Once exercising that basic liberty is regarded as a crime, the other liberties can also be taken away. In a truly free society, no person should be forced to choose between his moral principles and his livelihood.
Churches and religious organizations across the country are now scrambling to update their various statements of faith, bylaws, and facility-use policies so they have adequate legal defenses if and when their groups are targeted in discrimination lawsuits. Churches need to make clear how their teachings on sexuality come from Scripture, and they need to affirm that Scripture demands that pastors proclaim those doctrines (Acts 20:27). They also need to clarify from Scripture who can be a member in good standing. (Note: We have provided a number of helpful materials online at www.FreedomGuardNOW.org.)
In the meantime, businesses defined as “religious organizations” in the US are still allowed under federal and state laws to maintain their identity and integrity (for example, by hiring only those who share their essential Christian beliefs and being exempt from religiously objectionable statutes). These rights can apply to closely held for-profit businesses as well as nonprofit organizations, as the Supreme Court recently affirmed in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (2014).
Even in secular places of employment, the law still provides that Christians and other individuals must be allowed a reasonable accommodation for their sincerely held religious beliefs. While these rights may be limited in the future, Christians should certainly exercise them today.
Unfortunately, given the direction of modern Western culture, we have no reason to expect a shift back in our favor. It is more likely that our freedoms will continue to decline.
Even so, Scripture is quite clear about our obligations. Our primary duty is to share the gospel and His grace in our lives. Jesus Himself called His followers not to disengage from society, but to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13–16). Jude 3 instructs us to “contend for the faith,” and 1 and 2 Timothy encourage us to “fight the good fight” and “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
Christians are motivated to contend for biblical truth precisely because we love our neighbors, and we understand that our Creator’s design is what’s best for individuals—and society as a whole. As Christians, we are compelled to share that truth privately and publicly, such as when Paul told the cultural elite at Athens that their Creator has called on “all men everywhere” to turn away from following their own ways of thinking and follow God’s way (Acts 17:30). Still, even as Paul called the church to “be on the alert” and “stand firm in the faith,” he clarified the central theme of the Christian witness: “
Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14, emphasis added).
We should be prepared then, as winsome witnesses, to share why we believe same-sex “marriage” is wrong. The Creator has the right to define what He expects from His creation, and that includes marriage. The gospel requires that people understand how they’ve failed to meet God’s requirements and that they must seek His forgiveness. God opens His Word by describing His purpose for marriage (Genesis 2:24), and Jesus Christ reiterated its central role (Matthew 19:4–6).
Indeed, explaining God’s design for human sexuality may never have been more important than it is today. Despite the radical secularists’ efforts to convince the public otherwise, it is not “bigotry” to remind people of God’s claims on our lives and biological reality. Marriage is structured around the unchanging fact that only opposite-sex couples naturally procreate. Moms and dads are both important and strategic in God’s design for the family, and governments do well to encourage intact families formed by biological parents.
At the end of the day, we must always remember this is a battle of principles and against principalities, rather than people, because our struggle is not “against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). As Christians, we know that every person has inestimable dignity and value and must be treated with compassion because every one of us is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
We tell other people about God’s demands on their lives precisely because we love them and we believe that everyone needs to know Him and His gospel to find true life and joy. And we must be willing to share the Good News even in the face of increasing adversity. After all, Jesus Christ warned that we would be hated for this message, just as He was hated (Matthew 5:11–12; John 15:18).
A Christian should never be deterred by cultural challenges and ever-changing views of morality. We advocate for free speech and the free exercise of religion for everyone because we have ultimate confidence in the truth of the Bible, believing that it can triumph over every competing philosophy.
As persecution for this cause escalates around the world, we can’t lose our perspective.
As persecution for this cause escalates around the world, we can’t lose our perspective. Indeed, our Savior reminds us that we should count the opposition as an honor: “
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad . . . for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).
That “social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia,” as Chief Justice Roberts put it, has been the basis of civilization because our Creator designed it that way. We have to keep reminding everyone of that fact, through our words, our actions, and our public policy even when it is unpopular to do so.
If you have children, they will now grow up in a culture that accepts and promotes homosexuality. What should parents do?
We live in a post-Genesis 3 world. Because of this, sin is a reality. Part of the goal of parenting is teaching our children to love God and hate sin. Using discernment as a parent, talk openly with your children in age-appropriate ways about homosexuality and gay “marriage.”
The home is the most foundational place for your children to learn the gospel and see it modeled. Let us model the entire gospel—servant headship, submission, grace, repentance, and restoration.
Teach the foundation for marriage from Genesis 1–2 and its picture of the relationship between Christ and the church in Ephesians 5 and Revelation 19. Talk about this often.
The battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of this world (Ephesians 6:12).
Men are designed by God to be leaders, providers, and protectors in the home. Women are designed by God to be helpers and nurturers in the home. Men and women are equal in dignity, value, and worth, but different in role and function. We are called by God to pass down these truths of manhood and womanhood to the next generation (Titus 2).
Let us live with this bold posture. Christians are “sent into” the world to be instruments used by God in the building of his church (Matthew 28:16–20).
—by Greg Gibson, executive editor and communications director for the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW)