Slow down. Take a deep breath. These are the words I’ve repeated to myself over and over as every news app on my phone alerted me one after the other that the United States Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage bans across the country are unconstitutional and that all states must recognize same sex marriages performed in other states. As I read the opinions in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. _____ (2015), I ultimately couldn’t help but ask myself what this means for me as a pastor and lawyer. What does this mean for the church? What does this mean for believers?
The decision is summed up in one paragraph:
“Just as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union. Indeed, while the States are in general free to vary the benefits they confer on all married couples, they have throughout our history made marriage the basis for an expanding list of governmental rights, benefits, and responsibilities. These aspects of marital status include: taxation; inheritance and property rights; rules of intestate succession; spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decisionmaking authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support, and visitation rules. Valid marriage under state law is also a significant status for over a thousand provisions of federal law. The States have contributed to the fundamental character of the marriage right by placing that institution at the center of so many facets of the legal and social order.” (Internal citations omitted.)
In other words, since the state and federal governments have exalted marriage as beneficial as a matter of public policy, the Supreme Court has decided that it is public policy – not God – that defines marriage. Instead of values determining policy, policies now set values. How backwards? In any case, the decision comes down to the dollar to a large degree. Heterosexual couples get certain financial benefits as a result of being married – tax benefits, inheritance and property rights, survivor benefits, relief from certain campaign finance restrictions, workers’ compensation, insurance, child support – all of which are financial considerations. Other marital benefits are more situational – the right to tell one person something in confidence and keep it that way despite a Court order to testify as to what was said (spousal privilege), the right for one person to be with you in the hospital and by default make healthcare decisions for you if you are incapacitated, the right to adopt a child, the right to have the loved one of your choice on your death certificate, and so forth. The primary issue in this case revolved around whether same-sex couples should receive these same benefits as both a matter of personal choice protected under the due process clause and as a matter of equal protection of the law.
To put the debate on same-sex marriage to an end, the Court also addressed the question as to whether a state could refuse to acknowledge a marriage performed in another state. The Court held the states cannot. The ultimate summary is this – same-sex marriage is now legal in the United States and the only real way to change that is to amend the Constitution.
There are three primary things Christians should be concerned about as a result of this opinion. We should first be concerned with the regard held for the Word of God. Justice Kennedy quoted Confucius, not Scripture. This opinion obviously discounts and disregards God’s Word. Secondly, we should be concerned that although up until now people behaved contrary to the morality of God’s Word all the time, the conduct is now celebrated and solemnized as a matter of Constitutional law. Finally, we should be concerned for the spiritual health of orphans because this ruling explicitly references the ability of same-sex couples to adopt in its wake.
So how should we respond?
1. Learn why Scripture is the inerrant, infallible, and ultimate authority as the Word of God. If someone asked you why you thought same-sex marriage was wrong and you told them, “because the Bible says it is”, would you be able to articulate why the Bible is the ultimate moral authority? If not, check back later and I’ll have another blog post up to help you with that.
2. Hold fast to a biblical view of marriage. I am not saying that this opinion amounts to persecution of the church. However, holding to a biblical view of marriage while a majority of the country celebrates this opinion will likely result in some insult and persecution of individual believers. Prove yourself zealous for what is right and be prepared to defend the hope that you have. Hold fast, be blessed, and be ready to defend the truth of Scripture with gentleness and reverence. (1 Pt. 3:14-16).
3. Examine and adjust your own marriage to match the biblical definition of Scripture. We can be pretty quick to quote 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 when defending the biblical view of marriage. But let’s not forget that extra-marital sex, pornography, and adultery are other sexual sins listed as conduct unbecoming an heir of God’s kingdom. Husbands, let’s not forget that we are told to love our wives sacrificially and lead our families. Wives, let’s not forget that Scripture commands you to be subject to your husband. (Eph. 5:22-33). Let’s not forget that we are commanded to keep the marriage bed pure and undefiled. (Heb. 13:4) If we’re going to hold so passionately to a biblical view of marriage (as we should), let’s actually live it out.
4. Foster and/or adopt a child. I don’t want to convey that children raised by same-sex couples will not be loved and/or physically and emotionally cared for. However, it is safe to say that children raised by same-sex couples will be raised in an environment where regard for the Word of God is confused at best. Notwithstanding this ruling, there has never been an excuse for there to be a single child in foster care – both because the circumstances which put them there are inexcusable and because the church’s mediocre response to the needs of the orphan falls short of biblical exhortation. However, in light of the fact that this ruling was to some degree formulated so that same-sex couples could adopt, evangelical Christians should flock to the nearest human services office or adoption agency and raise those children in an environment where the Word of God is revered and cherished.
5. Bridle your tongue. Holding fast to a biblical view of marriage does not mean taking to Facebook and Twitter with scathing political commentary. I intentionally avoided social media for a while after the opinion was released, and the first post I saw after my brief social media fast claimed that this case marks the beginning of the Christian holocaust. Others say their renouncing their U.S. citizenship. Panic, anger, and alarmism reflect fear and trouble. They do not reflect the hope we have. They do not defend that hope gently or reverently.
6. Cheer up! I’ve had to examine myself as a result of my feelings after this opinion was announced. Who or what do I worship? Do I worship the biblical view of marriage? Do I worship the government of the land I was born in because it used to hold to a biblical view of marriage? Or do I worship a living God? Russell Moore made a great point: the Supreme Court can’t put Jesus back in the grave. He’s still alive! He’s still coming back for His church one day! He still offers to fill the gap between our imperfection and God’s perfection! He still saves! He still loves me! If we can’t rejoice and hope in these facts today because “five lawyers have… enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law” (see Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent), then perhaps we don’t truly grasp the all-surpassing greatness of these facts.
7. Don’t act defeated! You are not defeated! Jesus has overcome the world! (Jn. 16:33). While this opinion runs contrary to Scripture, it along with the Constitution that it purportedly defends will one day perish. But the Word of God stands forever! (Ps. 33:11, Is. 40:8, 1 Pt. 1:24-25). A defeated attitude is inconsistent with the ultimate victory of Christ and our resultant hope in Him.
8. Refocus your political energy towards religious freedom. Pragmatically, Christians cannot afford to stand defeated today. It is the height of naivety to believe that the more extremist proponents of the same-sex agenda are satisfied. They will continue their efforts to force Bible-believing business owners to violate their own conscience. They will continue their efforts to have religious speech manifest in the proclamation of the Word of God categorically redefined as “hate-speech” and criminalized in much the same way they have categorically redefined marriage as whatever the individual decides it is.
Justice Kennedy at least tried to placate those who disagree with him on religious grounds. He stated, “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.” Later, he wrote:
“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. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”
These are sentences that Bible-believing churches must cling to for dear life going forward. Churches should count this as a promise from the Supreme Court and vigorously hold it to that promise. This opinion means that states must recognize same-sex marriages to the same degree that they recognize heterosexual marriages. It does not mean that you or I have to recognize same-sex marriage as marriage, or that the church must recognize or perform same-sex marriage.
9. Pray. Pray for those in authority that the church “may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:2). Should we be concerned about what this means for the sanctity of what God calls marriage? You bet. Pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done in America and in marriage. Should we be concerned about what this means for children, especially orphans? Absolutely. Pray for orphans to be adopted into godly homes.
Life goes on. Remain in the Word and dedicated to the truth. Follow Christ. Remember and rejoice in the fact that Jesus still saves.
I follow Christ. I have a beautiful wife Megan and three wonderful children, Harrisen, Rebekah, and Carter. I am a candidate for a Ph.D. in ethics from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have an M.Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a JD from the University of Arkansas, am licensed to practice law in several state and federal courts, and live in Rogers, Arkansas. I write a blog and produce a podcast. And I do it all that others may know Christ.