How should local churches respond to the Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex “marriage,” and what do you recommend local churches should do?
An Important Question With Immediate Response
This is a very important question for all of us. Immediately after the decision I posted on this, including a number of links listed at the bottom of the post. Those were all written in the immediate wake of the decision, so there are others that have been written that would reflect more careful thought after the fact. President Kompelien has also sent a letter to our EFCA family. This gives a good, strong biblical statement of the fact that we trust our good, sovereign God, we stand firmly on the biblical truth regarding marriage, and we live and proclaim with truth and grace the gospel and its transformative power, evidencing that in our lives.
Additionally, one of the documents written by the Spiritual Heritage Committee a few years ago, to which President Kompelien links, is still very helpful. Even though it needs to be updated/revised, the content and the bibliographic resources in the document are still invaluable.
A Broader Perspective of Being Citizens of Two Cities: The City of God and The City of Man (with thanks to Augustine)
We thank God, first and foremost, that we have been made free by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Jn. 8:32; Eph. 2:8-9). We acknowledge that this makes us citizens of the heavenly city (Col. 3:1-4) while being aliens and strangers here on the earth (Eph. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:11). The amazing truth is that in Christ we have already come to this city: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). And this truth which we have experienced transforms everything.
We also acknowledge that we are citizens of an earthly city, one that is passing away (Heb. 11:10-16; 13:14; 2 Pet.3:10-14) . But until that time, we are called to be faithful in that city. In fact, Christians, those who are first and foremost citizens of the heavenly city, are to be some of the best, most faithful citizens in the earthly city. Though we are not to be afraid of speaking and acting against Caesar when our heavenly citizenship is compromised, which means there are times when we must obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29), neither are we afraid or reticent to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, as that is the structure God has temporarily ordained (cf. Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-6; 1 Pet. 2:11-17) and our Lord Jesus’ commands (Matt. 22:21; Mk. 12:17; Lk. 20:25).
So today we are reminded that God is sovereign, his unfolding providence is good, being assured that God is good and does good, that we live in a fallen world, that we have one Lord, that our true home is the city of the living God and because of that we know how to live and engage in the earthly city. In the Statement of Faith, Article 1, God, we confess our belief in God that he has “graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.” Or in the table prayer we learned as children, the depth of the theological truth grasped through a lifetime, “God is great; God is good.”
Some Initial Responses
In writing on behalf of the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy sought to respond to some of the concerns raised by religions and those with religious convictions. Those who do not agree with the new law that legalized same-sex “marriage” will be protected under the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”).
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.
Knowing religious liberty has been narrowed over the years, and with concern regarding possible implications of this new law on religious liberty, and to ensure Kennedy’s words are not just rhetoric, The First Amendment Defense Act was introduced to clarify, strengthen and defend religious liberty. As part of this defense this bill prevents federal intrusion and government retaliation, specifically against those individuals and institutions who support traditional marriage.
The First Amendment Defense Act (S. 1598, H.R. 2802) would prevent any federal agency from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license, or certification to an individual, association, or business based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For example, the bill would prohibit the IRS from stripping a church of its tax exemption for refusing to officiate same-sex weddings.
It is interesting to note, that two legal issues that strike at the heart of key biblical truths and central issues of living out our Christian faith – abortion and same-sex “marriage” – are both rooted in the 14th Amendment: In 1973, Roe v. Wade, it was made law that the “right” to privacy extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion; in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, it was made law that the “‘right’ to marry is a fundamental ‘right’ inherent in the liberty of the person.”
There are things we can learn from these two laws that we believe compromise biblical truth and convictions, how we have responded in the past, and how we ought to respond in the future. In the first few days after the decision a number of Christians have begun to think along these lines as they ponder further how we ought to process this and how we ought to respond.
A Few Thoughts About Next Steps
Theologically and pastorally, we affirm God is the sovereign one who remains sovereign as he unfolds his providential plan in this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified world. We also affirm that we do not have a definitive answer to the practical questions of “what do we now do?” It is not that there are no answers or responses, but wise, and discerning responses that will be faithful and fruitful take some time to think through, ponder and pray over.
This will impact believers, churches and church-related institutions, but we do not know in what way. It is most likely that church-related institutions rather than churches themselves will be most affected by this new law. Many individuals and organizations are researching, consulting, pondering and praying about next steps and how to help God’s people to know how to navigate through them. One of those organizations is the National Association of Evangelicals, of which the EFCA is a member.
You can be assured we in the EFCA will work prayerfully and diligently to provide instruction, guidance and resources for pastors and churches. It is not as if this is catching us completely unaware, but it is a new day that will require a new way of thinking about and responding to this. Our biblical and theological commitment remains the same!
President Kompelien and I have been and remain in discussion. It is likely that the Spiritual Heritage Committee will be enlisted to work on how best to guide our thinking and responding, biblically, theologically and pastorally this fall. It is important that we attempt to provide resources sooner rather than later, but we do not want to do this in a knee-jerk manner so that it is not carefully and prayerfully considered.
Although I am not convinced that things will change immediately for our pastoral ministry and our churches, it will eventually. We do not know how, it what ways or the extent to which these changes will occur. We do, I believe, have some time to think this through but think it through biblically along with some possible responses we must.
As we do so be reassured that our EFCA motto “where stands it written?” is stated today in the declarative, “it stands written!”
Might we, individually as believers and corporately as the local church, reaffirm our commitment to the authority of the Scriptures, specifically in the realm of marriage and sexual morality, and might we do so with “grace and truth,” and with courage, compassion, conviction and kindness, speaking the truth of the gospel while manifesting the transformative power of the gospel in our lives.