In what Russell Moore calls the “Roe v. Wade of marriage”, the Supreme Court today in Obergefell v. Hodges ruled that same gender couples may legally marry in every state of the union. No state can prevent them from being married. How are Christians to think and respond? Several things come to mind, certainly not an exhaustive list:
1. Feelings of distress and torment of soul are not unbiblical or ungodly; quite the opposite, in fact. II Peter 2:7-8 speak of “righteous Lot,” who was “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)…” To be filled with sorrow and a sense of oppression by the redefinition of marriage and the practice of homosexuality is normal for the regenerate heart.
2. We ought not to be surprised by cultural degeneracy, the marginalization of Christians, or the increasing suffering that will likely come our way. It will most likely get worse. The reasoning of the majority, “Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations,” appear to me to open the door for any thing five justices deem appropriate. So on what grounds, other than popular opinion (which can turn on a whim), could proponents of polygamy or polyamory or pedophilia or incest or man-boy love or bestiality be turned away at the bench of SCOTUS?
Those who affirm the sinfulness of homosexuality and the immorality of homosexual “marriage” will eventually confront the power of the State. Chief Justice Roberts, in his dissent, writes,
The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. Ante, at 27. 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—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. See Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 1, at 36–38. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.
If he is discerning the future correctly, then Christians and churches will be negatively impacted by today’s ruling. Yet Peter reminds us that such a state of affairs ought not to shock us. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God God rests on you…if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (I Peter 4:12-16). The church in America has for the past decades been entering a phase of existence that churches throughout time and across the globe have known intimately. Peter would have us not be surprised, but be filled with joy as we suffer and keep our minds fixed on the return of Christ. “Those who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (I Peter 4:19). He calls us to trust and obey. We are to “live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (I Peter 4:2-5).
The culture will malign us, will wonder why we don’t just go along with the changing times, will persecute us for standing up for the truth and godliness. Again, we must entrust ourselves to the Lord – “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power…” (II Thessalonians 1:6-9). And we must recommit ourselves to the practice of holiness, bearing witness to the truth no matter what the cost: “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong…” (I Peter 3:14-17). Christians must continue to explain why we believe what we believe, with gentleness, respect, and reverence for God and man. We don’t back down from stating the truth of God’s word, even when our culture rejects it as an authority.
God has willed that our country abandon the creation ordinance of marriage, and perhaps that His people will know suffering as a result. Our faith in His sovereignty keeps us from panic and absolutely dismay, and keeps us resting in His sufficient grace – when we are weak, then we are strong in Christ (II Corinthians 12:9-10).
3. It’s a good time to remember the doctrine of the spirituality of the church, expressed clearly in the 17th century in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate” (WCF 31.4). In the words of the PCA Book of Church Order, “The power of the Church is exclusively” spiritual; that of the State includes the exercise of force. The constitution of the Church derives from divine revelation; the constitution of the State must be determined by human reason and the course of providential events. The Church has no right to construct or modify a government for the State, and the State has no right to frame a creed or polity for the Church. They are as planets moving in concentric orbits: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). The church is a spiritual kingdom, not of this world (John 18:36). Sessions and Presbyteries and Assemblies can bear witness to the moral and spiritual truth of cultural/political matters, but must leave civil government in the hands of civil magistrates – even when its decisions are morally bankrupt. Of course, individual Christians are members of two kingdoms, and as citizens of America are called to be salt and light, to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God to the things that are God’s. We must continue to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1ff.), insofar as they are not asking us to do something that God forbids, or preventing us from doing something God commands. Christian statesmen can and ought certainly seek to work to protect the rights of Christians and churches (as they are already seeking to do), but no matter what happens with such attempts our calling remains unchanged: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:9-12). Let us not “return evil for evil or insult for insult, but give a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (I Peter 3:9). May God give us many opportunities in the coming days to be a blessing even to those who hate us, that they might turn to Christ and be saved, that they as well as we might not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).