July 13, 2015
The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that marriage between two people of the same sex was legal in all 50 states. This decision has produced waves of reactions around the country. Some have celebrated this decision as a triumph of equal rights for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation. Others have lamented this decision as further evidence of moral decline (or worse.) Further, the internet has encouraged millions of Americans (including many Christians) to take to the world wide web to share their personal “take” on this situation.
While many excellent articles have been written on the topic already, I feel compelled to share some of my own thoughts on the matter to help season the conversation around Wildwood (where I serve as a pastor). As I respond, I want to make clear that I do so as a pastor, not as a politician or judge. Supreme Court historians, attorneys, and pundits have already discussed this decision from every conceivable legal angle. I can add very little to that conversation. I comment as a pastor who cares about the soul of our congregation, community, and country. I also do so as a sinful man myself, with imperfect understanding of things. I write not as a hypocrite who believes I am better, but as one who has found grace through Jesus Christ, and I want to point all towards Him. With those caveats, here are a few thoughts I have had about the situation.
The Supreme Court passed this decision by a narrow majority; a narrow majority that I see echoed in our society today. The past decade has seen the majority public conscience shift in favor of same sex marriage. However, popular opinion does not determine truth. Popular opinion can shape U.S. Law, but it does not change Biblical revelation. In fact, the norm is for Christianity to be a minority view. Jesus was Lord, even though the majority mob on the original Good Friday morning shouted “Crucify Him!” Our faith is based in the God-inspired truth of the Scriptures, not the latest Barna Research poll. While the U.S. Law has been changed, the fact that homosexual acts are sinful has not (as passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Romans 1:26-27 convey). As a Pastor, I would admonish all Christians to not allow public opinion to change their doctrinal beliefs (regardless of subject). Our faith is grounded in the Word (Jesus, the Living Word, and the Scriptures that point to Him – the written Word.) This has always been the case, and always will be.
Historically, the Christian faith is a minority view. Growing up in America, where Christian ethics have influenced much of the popular worldview for hundreds of years, we have enjoyed the privilege of having our faith and culture agree on a number of things. This has allowed us to freely gather and worship and share our faith openly without being arrested. We have even enjoyed special privileges like tax exemption for our churches and Bible verses in our courtrooms. While it has been a huge blessing to grow up in this environment, a majority Christian environment is not promised by God in this life, and is not even the “normal Christian life” as described in Scripture. In fact, it is normal for Christian beliefs to be seen as odd by the world around them. Indeed, the Bible calls homosexual acts sinful — but the entire biblical ethic on sexuality is at odds with the majority opinion, not just its views of homosexuality. The Bible says that the BEST (and only appropriate) expression of sex is between a man and woman who are husband and wife. This is a minority opinion in our world today. In fact, way more people in the world today commit the sins of heterosexual lust or fornication (any heterosexual activity outside of marriage, including pornography) than commit sins of homosexual acts (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-20 for more of the Scriptures call for Christians to flee all kinds of sexual immorality.) Christian beliefs and ethics about all sexuality are minority views in our world today. The Supreme Court’s decision is simply another reminder that this is not our home — our citizenship is in heaven. Our values will never fully fit in until we are there.
Some have wondered why the church is so “fixated” on the particular sin of homosexuality. While I understand the sentiment (it is in the news, in sermons, and often talked about), I actually don’t think the church is fixated on it. Most of the time, when the church talks about homosexuality, it does so in response to questions from individuals or the culture at large. As far as I know, the culture is not asking the church to celebrate very many other actions that God defines as sinful in the Bible. Yet, currently, the culture is wanting all individuals and organizations (including churches) to celebrate the legalization of same sex marriage. How can the church celebrate what God condemns?
At the same time, I do not believe that homosexual acts are unforgivable or “the worst sins.” They are sins like gossiping, idolatry, stealing, or heterosexual activity outside of marriage (see Romans 1:28-30 for just one of the many lists in the New Testament describing some of the variety of human sinfulness.) God can forgive all in Christ. I don’t think that people who commit homosexual acts are the ONLY sinners, and they certainly are not the majority of sinners. I simply think that they are sinners . . . like every other person on the face of the earth. Even if we eliminated sexual sin from consideration, all people still sin in a multitude of other ways. Furthermore, I don’t think that the most important thing about ANY person is their sexuality. The most important thing about every person is the fact that they were created in the image of God. That is why we honor all people and love them by pointing them to Christ, regardless of the areas of their struggles.
Too often, homosexual temptation is described as a “them” problem, as if it only impacts those outside the church. The reality is that every church, including Wildwood, has people inside the church who struggle with homosexual temptations. It is an “us” issue. We will deal with this temptation like any temptation . . . together – trusting Christ to empower resistance to temptation and righteous living, and offering the hope of forgiveness when we fall.
Instead of spending all our energy arguing for our “rights,” the church needs to focus on helping sinful people (of all persuasions) understand that there is hope and forgiveness that is found in Jesus Christ. There is nothing about the Supreme Court decision or public opinion that changes the fact that all people are sinners in need of a Savior. In fact, the reality that we live in a world where these tensions exists reminds us why Jesus had to come and die. Our sin separates us from a holy God and only the forgiveness provided in Christ can reconcile that relationship. The church must continue to shine Christ’s light in this dark world and point people to Him. Our main message on sin and sexuality is that there is hope in Jesus Christ for all who embrace Him.
As Christians, what are we to do today in light of this decision? We are to live a life that stands out (not blends in) with the world around us (1 Peter 2:11-12). We are to submit under the human authorities God has placed around us and give honor to all people, representing Christ with integrity in our secular society (1 Peter 2:13-20). And we are to champion the notion of salvation through Christ alone (1 Peter 2:21-25). (For further expounding of these principles see my sermon from June 28 by visiting this link.)
I hope this short letter helps add some depth as you process life as a Christian in America in 2015.
P.S. My good friend and Senior Pastor Bruce Hess preached a 3 part sermon series on the topic of homosexuality in the fall of 2014. At the same time he also prepared a set of web links to relevant information for those who want to go deeper. To watch those sermons or access those resources, click here.