The following is a statement delivered to the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church on Sunday, July 5, addressing the Decision of the United States Supreme Court to legalize same sex marriage.
Before we pray, I want to preface our study with a brief reflection on the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states. It is not the calling of the church, and it is certainly beyond my competency personally, to comment on the constitutionality or the politics of the decision. For that you will need to turn elsewhere. However, it seems to me important that we take time to think about the implications of a decision that will have enormous ramifications for Christians who take their commitment to the Bible as the Word of God seriously.
If anyone had any doubts before, the decision to legalize same-sex marriage has made it abundantly clear that a tectonic shift that has taken place in the moral consensus of this country. It’s a shift that now officially normalizes what was once scandalous, and makes offensive the orthodox Christian understanding of Biblical morality and sexual ethics, effectively punting millennia of ethical teaching to the margins. I do not think I need to restate this here, but just to be clear, at First Presbyterian Church, in common with the Presbyterian Church in America, the denomination to which we belong, we affirm with the scriptures that marriage is the lifelong union of one man to one woman. And we deny that human beings, whether individuals or courts or elected officials, have the right or the capacity to define marriage in any way at odds with the revealed plan of God. Lifelong heterosexual marriage is a given. It is pre-political. It is not a social construct. Whatever the new social and political reality, there is simply no such thing as same sex marriage. The term is an oxymoron.
Nevertheless, we do need to face the new social and political reality with our eyes wide open, and ask ourselves what this might mean for the people of God in these days. And the first thing to say is that clearly we must be prepared to be bear the cost that following Jesus Christ inevitably is going to entail. The LGBTQI community has largely won the national debate, and it has done so in no small measure by successfully equating in the public mind opposition to same sex-marriage with the terrible poison of racism, so that now, to take the biblical view and simply to oppose same sex unions, and to reject homosexuality as sin, is to be labeled a bigot and an extremist on a par with hate groups and white supremacists. Brothers and sisters, there will be hard and painful and costly days ahead and we must prepare ourselves to bear the reproach of Christ, and to suffer with him outside the camp, because of our commitment to Biblical truth.
Already, it is becoming clear that Christian para-church educational and philanthropic institutions will face penalties for their failure to comply with the new ruling. Similarly, I do not believe it will be long before religious protections will dissolve, and biblically faithful Churches will lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to conform to the new ruling. I doubt I need explain the enormous financial impact on the church, should that take place.
Well, how should we respond? What should First Church do in light of all that has happened?
Two things, and then I want to turn to prayer…
First, we must not panic. We must not give in to fear. We must not despair or think that all is lost. We may well be witnessing the final collapse of a residual Christian culture that has, for a long time now, allowed the church to live in a cocoon- especially here in the South- cushioning us from the more radical challenges of our postmodern society. That is disappearing quickly. And along with it, in all likelihood, merely cultural-Christians will begin to disappear from our rolls. The social and political cost of being identified with the biblical position will be too much to bear. But what will remain will largely be the Faithful, whom God has made his children by his Word and Spirit, whom he will never forsake, who may be assured of his comfort and the supply of his grace, as we stand firm, with our consciences captive to the Word of God. So let’s be sobered by the decision but let’s not forget that God is sovereign and he will work all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. We must not panic, but we must get serious.
In fact, I believe that we ought to hear in the Supreme Court decision a clarion call to personal holiness and to bold gospel mission. It is hard to imagine a clearer indicator of the lost-ness of our world or of its need of Christ. Whatever else we might say about it, the Supreme Court has made it painfully clear to us that America needs Jesus. And so, instead of fear and discouragement, it’s time to get serious about the gospel, about our personal dedication to Christ, and about bringing the good news to our city and our country, no matter the cost. Certainly, we must do that with humility and compassion, recognizing the complexity of the issues involved in the discussion of gender and sexuality, and how profoundly linked it is for so many to the shaping of personal identity and the quest for fulfillment. We must find creative ways to serve those already in our own midst- and there are currently a number of members in our congregation I know personally- who struggle with same sex attraction, who nevertheless seek to live lives of purity and godly obedience to Jesus despite that struggle. We must work to be both a welcoming and loving community on the one hand, while at the same time affirming that love requires boundaries on the other hand. And so we must both love and serve all people with the gospel, regardless of their moral or spiritual condition, whether they self identify as gay or straight, while at the same time calling all people to sexual purity, self-denial, and to holiness without compromise.
And then secondly, I want to say that the most radical, the most powerful, the most effective response to the moral collapse of the world and the lost-ness of our society is to do what we are doing today. Mightier than legal challenges, more counter-cultural than civil disobedience, more transformative than political change, is the simple worship of Almighty God, regulated by Holy Scripture, attended by the presence and power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. As we sing our old songs, and sit in humility under the reading and preaching of the Bible, brothers and sisters, let us not forget that God himself is at work, making of us a new humanity, no longer conformed to the pattern of this world. Instead we are being transformed by the renewal of our minds, into the moral image of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, “business as usual” is our main response. We will not slacken the pace. We will not stop proclaiming Christ and calling the world to faith in him. We will keep the main things the main things and run our race with perseverance, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross scorning its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. If we will recommit to sitting under the faithful proclamation of biblical truth, to feeding on the Word of God, trusting its promises and obeying its precepts, we have the greatest grounds for confidence and hope in a dark and despairing world. We must be gospel optimists. Of course, we have no hope in self or in society. But our God is sovereign and his Word invincible. I think in the next few years Luther’s great hymn will take on new depths of meaning and significance, and I trust we will sing it with new confidence in its truth:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath 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.
Let’s pray together…