Archives For same-sex marriage

Though this is not a surprise at all, it now becomes official: Presbyterians vote to allow gay marriage by whopping 3-1 ratio. “The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Thursday (June 19) to allow gay and lesbian weddings within the church, making it among the largest Christian denominations to take an embracing step toward same-sex marriage.”

The General Assembly of the PCUSA (1.8 million members) approved by a 76-24 percent vote to allow pastors to perform same-sex “marriages” in states where they are legal. This required another change regarding the biblical meaning of marriage so they edited their Book of Order, that which governs the conduct of their pastors, so that the reference to “a man and woman” now reads “two persons.”

This will not become “church law” until a majority of the 172 regional presbyteries vote to affirm the new language, but given that the vote was 3-1 it will likely be approved.

Lauren Markoe, writing in the Religion News Service, notes that this decision is reflective of the broader culture, but it also reflects accommodation to the culture, a shift most Evangelical churches resist.

The General Assembly’s vote reflects change in the nation, where in rapid succession during the past year, judges have struck down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. And a steady stream of opinion polls shows Americans’ approval of gay marriage has risen dramatically in the past few years, to around 55 percent today.

But even against this backdrop, the General Assembly’s vote stands out as a church adapting its policy to fit a rapidly shifting culture even as most other Christian denominations have resisted.

The nation’s largest churches — Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Mormon, United Methodist and most evangelical churches — recognize marriage only as between a man and a woman, though many Methodists are pushing for a change. The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ all allow same-sex marriage.

Christianity Today also reported on this decision and base the strong approval for this shift on the “conservative exodus.”

This is one of the defining, watershed moral issues of the day. All churches and every denomination will have to make a decision about “what stands written,” and  to the question “Did God say?” it is not a time to capitulate or accommodate or remain silent but to proclaim with convictional kindness, “Thus says the Lord!”

On this moral matter, there is no middle ground.

 

World Vision has changed their policy for employees:  “Christian” couples in same-sex “marriages” are now allowed to be employees. Though sexual abstinence outside of marriage is still policy, marriage is no longer defined as between a man and a woman.

Richard Stearns, United States president of World Vision, “asserts that the ‘very narrow policy change’ should be viewed by others as ‘symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.’ He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.”

It is amazing that Stearns refers to this change as “very narrow.” Either he does not grasp the magnitude of this moral issue, or he is downplaying its importance. Though it addresses one change, this change is major and strikes at the heart of the Bible and its authority.

With this “very narrow” change, World Vision claims that they will be able to live above the fray of this moral issue that is “tearing churches apart.” They are taking their cue from legal decisions made in many states and liberal churches, both of which are attempting to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Though the stated reason may be unity, it comes at the expense of truth, and it will not bring true unity. In a sense, one gets the sense in which one claims “unity, unity, but there is no unity” (a take on Jeremiah’s words of denunciation to prophets and priests who dealt falsely and healed the wound of God’s people lightly claiming “peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14; 8:11)). 

In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently “tearing churches apart” over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.

Given that more churches and states are now permitting same-sex marriages (including World Vision’s home state of Washington), the issue will join divorce/remarriage, baptism, and female pastors among the theological issues that the massive relief and development organization sits out on the sidelines.

Stearns attempts to downplay this decision.

‘It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,’ he said. ‘This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.’

‘We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us,’ said Stearns. ‘This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church.’

Though Stearns is right to distinguish between the church and denominations and the parachurch (though denominations are also a parachurch, though related more directly to the church), it is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst to claim that they are merely an “operational arm” of the church and not a “theological arm” of the church.

There are two major problems. First, parachurches are birthed by the church to serve the church. That means that though they may serve as an operational arm of the church, they are grounded in the theological foundation of the church. Second, by changing this policy and claiming that they do not endorse same-sex “marriage” and that they “affirm and support ‘traditional marriage’” simply will not work. This is a theological issue and they have made their beliefs and commitments clear, regardless of the spin that is put on this decision.

Stearns claims the new policy is rooted in the fact that World Vision is a parachurch and is multi-denominational.

‘Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.,’ he said. ‘So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.’

The reason the prohibition existed in the first place? ‘It’s kind of a historical issue,’ said Stearns. ‘Same-sex marriage has only been a huge issue in the church in the last decade or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that’s changed.’

As you read, Stearns places same-sex “marriage” in the same category as other issues over which Christians have agreed to disagree. This reflects his inability to discern between essential and non-essential matters, and how one goes about discerning what doctrinal matters are in the different categories.

Furthermore, to place this only in the category of being a historical issue, misses some profound issues. Certainly these issues are pressing on us now. And though there is a huge cultural shift of the general populace toward the acceptance of same-sex “marriage,” Evangelicals have not merely affirmed doctrinal matters because they are historical or culturally expedient. They have done so because they are biblical. Once again it is unity that drives this, unity that sought based on present-day historical and cultural consensus. Truth has never been determined that way.

This move truly does reveal that World Vision has a hole in the gospel, which is ironic in that this was the title of Stearn’s book: The Hole in Our Gospel. We now see the answer to his follow up book as well, Filling the Hole in Our Gospel.

Sadly, Stearns and World Vision have moved away from the gospel. Furthermore, they have distanced themselves from the Evangelicals, because the gospel, the evangel, is foundational to Evangelicals.

When I heard this, not only was I deeply disturbed about what this move stated about the gospel, I was grieved for what this move means for the children who are supported by many Evangelicals. Trevin Wax voices the same concern.

Russell Moore has also commented on World Vision’s tragic move away from the gospel.

 

In response to the post on the bill which the governor of Arizona vetoed, “The Legalization of Same-Sex “Marriage,” Participation and Conscience,” a few key issues/questions are raised.

One addresses the issue of “participation” and what it means. Is participation merely a business deal, or can it also be considered support of/for, at least for some?

Another is an extension of this as it focuses on conscience and what that entails. Who determines this and who mandates the response

A final issue emphasizes the issue of marriage and what that means. If one does not ask personal questions about others who are being married to determine whether or not they live in sin, e.g. adulterers, is one not then being inconsistent, biased, prejudicial, to refuse business to a same-sex couple being “married?”

Here are further responses to these three important issues: participation, conscience and marriage.

The specific argument addressed a photographer who was wrestling with the question of how his conscience ought to factor in to making a decision about taking pictures for a wedding for those he knows to be involved in unbiblical behavior. Powers and Merritt’s argument was that if the photographer refuses to do one unbiblical wedding, then he ought to refuse to do them all, and to do anything other is to be a hypocrite.

This is not to suggest that the photographer or florist or baker is obligated to investigate thoroughly before serving at a wedding. They are not obligated or required to live by the same standards that I would as pastor doing my background research before performing a wedding service. They can in good faith agree to perform the service. But how does a conscientious believer respond in an instance when they know there are things going on that are deeply offensive to God and harmful to the couple? It is important to state that this was not about refusing to serve a gay person because they were gay. Rather it was a question of serving in a same-sex “marriage.”

One’s response in the case of a same-sex “marriage” (because I do not consider this a marriage, I include quotes) is a different matter. There is no way whatsoever that this is right. It is not a marriage, and any sexual union is immoral. There is no further background research that needs to be done because it is evident. How, then, should a Christian think about his/her decision to use creative gifts, given by God, in a way that he/she believes is dishonoring to God and harmful to others? Granted, there is some gray here. But the issue is this: should the state mandate, require by law that that person compromise his/her conscience under the threat of fines and penalties? I don’t think so.

To this, Powers and Merritt claimed that to compromise conscience it would mean that the government would force them to engage in behavior in which they did not believe. The defense is, according to them, “whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation.” I believe they make two faulty statements here. First, they assume that simply baking a wedding cake or taking pictures would not be an affirmation of the couple or the wedding. They are entitled to that belief and response. But is it right to mandate that of all others under threat of the law? Second, their basis for arguing this is “whether society really believes” this. The problem with this is that true religious liberty is not what “society really believes” but what the baker or photographer or florist believes. If this decision rests in society, it dismisses what religious liberty has traditionally meant. Finally, I add a third, whether or not same-sex “marriage” is recognized legally or not, that does not mean Christians have to agree with the definition. It is not affirmed biblically or traditionally, the former being definitive and prescriptive, the latter more descriptive.

We may debate the best way to ensure that religious consciences are protected by law and courts (conscience). We may affirm the definition of marriage according to the Bible that is contrary to that defined by the law (marriage). We may also disagree about how we would counsel believers who are asking honest questions about how to live life to the glory of God in the marketplace, while loving their neighbor and being committed to being a godly witness who upholds the truth of God (participation). But claiming that those who are concerned not to sear their conscience, and to be forced to do so, as if they are resurrecting the Jim Crow laws is too much. It is a wrong analogy as race is not the same moral issue as homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.”

Bearing in mind conscience, participation and marriage, how would you respond? What counsel would you provide? Why?

One of the significant issues of discussion and debate has to do with same-sex “marriage.” (Please note that I have placed quotation marks around “marriage” because I do not believe this is a true marriage as ordained by God as revealed in the Scriptures. This gets to the heart of the discussion/debate.) Not only does this have to do with the legalization of same-sex “marriage,” but now the push is to force participation in such “marriages,” as a photographer, baker or some other business. This is not a legal issue but a matter of religious freedom and not being forced to act against one’s conscience.

At present, there are seventeen states that recognize same-sex “marriage,” with people in Idaho and Kentucky petitioning the courts to grant the same legal rights there as well. In order to stem the tide, people in Arizona and Kansas, and nine other states, are attempting to put some restraints on this law by putting some parameters around what one can be exempt from based on religious or moral conscience. As summarized by one, “The question is no longer whether couples may marry, but whether a baker may refuse to sell them a wedding cake on the strength of his religious or moral conscience, without risking a lawsuit.”

Another pinpoints the issue with laser-like precision: “A wedding photographer in New Mexico, cake bakers in Colorado and Oregon, and a florist in Washington State have all found themselves in this predicament. Each now faces the coercive power of the state. They are being told, in no uncertain terms, that they must participate in providing services for same-sex weddings or go out of business. . . . the key issue is not a willingness to serve same-sex couples, but the unwillingness to participate in a same-sex wedding.”

It is not a major surprise that those who are unsympathetic to a religious or moral conscience exception would want to force that issue with the expectation that all must be forced to accommodate the same-sex couples wishes. What is surprising is what we hear from some Christians about this.

In these two posts, Powers and Merritt claim that the religious and moral conscience exception is the new homosexual Jim Crow law.

Kirsten Powers, “Jim Crow laws for gays and lesbians?”:

Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt, “Conservative Christians Selectively Apply Biblical Teachings in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

In these two posts, Moore, who was quoted in the posts noted above, responds to their claim as does Mohler, who both reflect the importance of this debate and the far-reaching effects of it.

Russell Moore, “On Weddings and Conscience: Are Christians Hypocrites?

Al Mohler, “Caesar, Coercion, and the Christian Conscience: A Dangerous Confusion

Since the comparison is made to the Jim Crow laws, which were wrongly used against blacks, it is important to ask if the analogy is an accurate one. One can make an impeccable argument using an analogy, but if the analogy is flawed, so is the argument. Carter asks and answers the question and concludes that sexual orientation is not analogous to race. Baucham raised the issue and also concludes strongly that “gay is not the new black.” This was written in 2012, which is important to read now again. I have previously commented on this excellent post.

Joe Carter, “Is Sexual Orientation Analogous to Race?

Voddie Baucham, “Gay Is Not the New Black

Yesterday (October 8) ECFA/CLS (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and the Christian Legal Society) sponsored a Webinar on “Same Sex Marriage, Sexual Conduct, and Gender Identity: Legal Implications for Religious Organizations in Light of Recent Court Decisions” with Kim Colby, of Christian Legal Society, Stuart J. Lark of Bryan Cave HRO, and Steve McFarland, Chief Legal Officer for World Vision.

This was an important and helpful Webinar which provided education, information and guidance into how to respond in the midst of significant cultural and legal changes. Here are some summary notes taken by one who participated in the Webinar.

Broad Summary:

  • The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rationale in United States v. Windsor was that opposition to same-sex marriage can only be animus (bigotry).
  • Several court rulings have expanded the “public accommodations” definition from essential commercial services (food and housing) to include “all activities in commercial life” (e.g., coffee shops, conference centers, wedding photography).
  • With these trends, conventional Christian views on sexuality and marriage may be at risk.  The religious exemption and first amendment rights of free speech are not considered the issue in the courts and give way to “accommodation rights.”

Strategy:

  • Carefully consider and articulate religious beliefs on human sexuality, with numerous scriptural citations (not relying on tradition as an argument) as it relates to employees, independent contractors who appear as our face, and the organization’s facility use.
  • Have the above written white paper approved by the board.
  • Articulate in such a way (e.g., conduct that will glorify Christ) that a court will not want to adjudicate on an organization’s evaluation of how that plays out.
  • Have the board authorize management to carry it out.
  • SCOTUS ruling on Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that there is a broader definition than one would think for whom can be considered “ministers” as it relates to the religious purpose of the organization – use that.

Boards should engage/respond proactively as if they are already in a court case and how they would present a consistent biblically-based position and course of actions.

As one EFCA (Evangelical Free Church of America) pastor wrote, “This is helpful, but also disturbing. I don’t think churches will be affected directly yet, but certainly any commercial enterprises will be required to toe the line or suffer grievously. This will be hardship for many.”

Since this was an exclusive ECFA-member (not EFCA) only webinar, of which the EFCA is a member, I am unable to provide the links or Webinar recording for the local congregations. However, they will be offering a similar Webinar on the same topic early in 2014, specifically geared toward local churches and non-ECFA members. If you are able, I would encourage you to avail yourself of this resource.