Marriage by SCOTUS

The internet has been bombarded with passionate reactions to the recent SCOTUS marriage decision to legalize same-sex marriages. In order to frame a thoughtful, civil, and faithful response, I think at least four perspectives must weigh on Christian consciences:

1.
Affirm the Imago Dei. Whether a person is a believer or a skeptic — and regardless of race, religion, or sexual attraction — we are all bent creatures who both reflect and distort our Creator's glory. All of our fellow citizens should be treated with dignity and equal legal protection for their life, property, civil rights and civic responsibilities. God declared that “it is not good” for image-bearers to be alone. Reflecting God, we were created to live and serve God as persons-in-community. While we grieve self-definitions of marriage contrary to the Designer's specifications, we must also repent of homophobia and prejudice. Not supporting civil unions, we now have same-sex marriages. Our LGBT friends and relatives are glad to receive equal treatment under law. We must affirm that image bearers should not be defaced through unjust suffering or legal discrimination.

2.
Recognize we live in a pluralistic culture — When Jesus spoke of a beacon in the world and a city set on a hill, he was not referring to American democracy or to any presumed theocracy. Jesus calls his followers and his church to be salt and light, communities of people who embody Gods truth and love. Rather than seek God’s kingdom through legislation or civil litigation, Christians are called to live as God’s foreigners and Christ’s ambassadors. Churches should become kingdom embassies on foreign soil to bless the world. Ancient Christians were described in a Letter to Diognetus: “They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.” Or, in the words of the Apostle Paul: “our citizenship is in heaven.” We must rethink how to love God and love our neighbors while we live in a pluralistic world. The USA, like Europe, is post-Christian. Lets get over it — and get on with our high calling to be people who honor God and benefit others.

3.
Reflect on Jesus’ words — “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” This requires sober, prayerful reflection. What are our obligations to the state and to God? What is legal and what is moral? How do sacred wedding ordinances relate to state marriage licenses? What is the relationship between the US Constitution and the authority of God’s Word? Rome would have tolerated Christianity as a religious minority, if the church had honored Caesar as lord. Jesus’ followers paid what they owed to the authorities — taxes, revenue, respect, and honor. But they only confessed ultimate allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord. And paid for it.

4.
Resolve to be a faithful witness — Let consciences be captivated and transformed by God’s Word. We must show Christ-like love, hospitality, forbearance, sacrifice, and an authentic love for all our neighbors. But, at some point, “We must obey God rather than men.” Even before the SCOTUS decision, the state granted marriages and divorces not permitted by God’s Word. Going forward, will ministers who teach biblical marriage be accused of hate speech? Will churches be litigated for “denying services” guaranteed by civil laws? Will religious institutions lose exemptions from property taxes and IRS deductions for charitable giving because they do not support public policy? When we give our tithes — is it for God, or for charitable deductions? Are we ready to sacrifice our past societal privileges to faithfully serve and obey God? Time will tell. But we must be ready to pay the price of following our consciences.

When I work with international students, I frequently tell them, “I am not an ambassador of American culture, but an ambassador of God's kingdom.” Many international students assume, erroneously, that the USA is a “Christian nation.” Historically, the gospel spread most rapidly when the church lived as a counter-cultural movement of Christ's followers. “Christendom” is a fiction. Like ancient Israel in Babylon, we “sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land” as we “seek the welfare of the city where we have been sent into exile,” praying to the LORD for the land of our sojourn.

As we respond to legalized same-sex marriages, these are crucial starting points: affirm the
Imago Dei, acknowledge our pluralistic culture, prayerfully reflect on our kingdom / state loyalties, and resolve to be faithful witnesses to our living Lord.