Pastors and the SCOTUS Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

by
June 29, 2015

Friday, June 26 was a tragic day for our culture, but it was a fantastic day to have the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians have resurrection faith that cannot be legislated away by the Supreme Court. Our responsibility to love our neighbor (Matt 22:39) and to seek the welfare of the city (Jer 29:7) where the providence of God has placed us demands that we acknowledge that the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is an assault on societal good and human flourishing in our land. The SCOTUS’s decision to redefine marriage is the most significant culturally damning moment in our nation since Roe v. Wade.

 As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in his dissent, the decision of the majority rejects the rights of states to uphold the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history. The result will not be an expansion of the definition of marriage but rather a redefinition of marriage that is so expansive that the only logical boundary is merely that it involve consenting adults. Chief Justice Roberts notes,

Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of mar­riage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradi­tion, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex mar­riage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one.

Make no mistake; with the legal redefinition of marriage to include same-sex marriage now the law of the land, every church in America will be forced to clarify where it stands. We are no longer discussing hypotheticals, but rather, we are facing realities. Many will capitulate and find that, in an attempt to save their congregations and Christianity itself, they lost it. Nominal Christianity will be a causality of the cultural marginalization of Christians and Christian ethics and to that we should say, “Good riddance.” But, we must be clear to our congregations that ground zero in facing the cultural challenges ahead related to the SCOTUS decision is not the White House, Supreme Court, or the halls of Congress; rather, it is the same place it has always been—the church house. The church is the only institution that Jesus promised, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” (Matt 16:18).

Shepherds of local churches must lead their congregations toward a cruciform response to this tragic cultural decision. Pastor, do not face this situation with self-pity or mealy-mouthed platitudes; an occasion such as this is reason they call you pastor. Give them the gospel. And by them I mean yourself, your congregation, our friends who are embracing the sin of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the culture, the politicians, and everyone else too. Be the one person who does not forget that ultimately this situation, and every situation, is to be summed up in Christ and his gospel (Eph 1:10). Giving them the gospel also means unapologetically preaching and teaching a biblical view of marriage, an institution whose existence is for the purpose of reflecting the gospel (Gen 2, Eph 5). Our cultural opponents on this issue are not our enemies; they are our mission field. We will not win them by compromising biblical truth, but neither will we win them by despising them.

Though we should weep that this decision will wreak societal havoc and amount to government sanctioned self-sabotage of its own citizens, there is a sense in which our task as Christians is not one ounce more difficult than it has ever been. We have always been involved in a mission that is beyond our ability. None of us has the power to raise the dead. None of us can heal the sick. None of us can make the blind see. None of us can save the lost. We are but instruments of the Almighty. Jesus is Lord we are not. But, Jesus is Lord and the arc of redemptive history bends toward the one who is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in him (Rom 3:26). If our pastors and churches sound like we are on the losing side of history, then we have lost far more than a Supreme Court decision.

Many discouraged believers will want to respond with bitterness and animosity, and pastors must remind them that those are not fruits of the Spirit. Congregational shepherds must also recognize that the sky-is-falling religious/political charlatan prophets of doom will see this as an entrepreneurial opportunity to capitalize on Christian outrage to build their mailing lists. We must remind our congregations that Christians ought to be the last people to fall prey to doom and gloom hopeless theology because the tomb is still empty and a court decision redefining marriage will not redefine “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). Sin, even legally protected sin, does not bring satisfaction. Paul reminds us that if we are faithful to preach the gospel, we will be able to speak to our congregations in the future and say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11).

In Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion, he wrote:

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. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.

We should be thankful for this statement but sober about it as well. Essentially, he is saying that they will tolerate us as a strange prophetic minority—for now. We know that this promise may not last. But, if it does not last, we must remind our churches of our brother Paul who stated that his unjust imprisonment “served to advance the gospel” (Phil 1:12), and if we are faithful and the time comes, the same can be true of us. Pastors need to clarify church policies regarding for whom they will and will not perform a wedding ceremony and whom they will allow to use their building for a wedding ceremony. These policies need to be clear, in writing, and congregationally affirmed. Meaningful membership and willingness to do congregational church discipline will be vital as we move ahead. Faithful shepherds will prepare their congregations in advance to respond in a gospel-centered way for the inevitable visit from a same-sex legally married couple. “If the government says its okay, what can we do?” is not a gospel response but neither is “Get out.”

In other words, we must shepherd our congregations to be the church. We must be intentional about things we should have been intentional about all along. Peter wrote to a group of governmentally and culturally persecuted believers he described as “elect exiles” (1 Pet 1:1). They were looked upon with suspicion because of their commitment to Jesus the Christ and accused of hatred and treated as social outcasts. Peter reminds them of the sufferings of Christ and subsequent glories (1 Pet 1:11) and then teaches them that they will experience the same pattern (1 Pet 4:13, 5:1). Then, he concludes by simply exhorting the elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Pet 5:2). Pastor, that is the need of this hour.


David E. Prince
David E. Prince is the pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church and a professor of Christian preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.