One of the biggest Supreme Court decision in years came down yesterday as an Opinion in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges — that of same-sex marriage. Essentially, the legal community (and pretty much every other community) was awaiting what the nine Justices would decide over whether or not marriage would be redefined and, if so, to what extent would the redefinition impact the nation.
Personally, I knew this would be of such a big deal that I nearly instantly had to turn all news and talking heads (both sides) almost all the way down, especially as my smart phone began to scroll with news app alerts and selected Twitter updates.
In other words, everyone all over the political and religious spectrum was beginning to freak out. What’s worse, it appears that some folks began to think that this was it for America, in that we were gone as a nation (from what, to what, nobody really knows, and probably still won’t, for some time).
For me, this isn’t so much of a legal issue as it is a cultural issue, and something that I believe the Church as a general institution has not only failed in some big ways to help lead, but should be looking at this issue from a new perspective and not be a victim of the very culture it should have been leading.
As such, I’m going to be taking what RelevantMagazine.com posted today and expand upon it, because for Christians, this issue now becomes an issue of response/reaction, and I believe we can take the issue up without fear and be confident as ambassadors for Christ.
As a disclaimer, I admit to not approving of same-sex marriage. I believe that marriage is an eons-old institution originally established for the purposes of cementing one man and one woman together, for life, for the purposes of both procreation as well as the fundamental building-block of any society. As an extension, I believe that when there’s a breakdown in this definition of marriage, that ultimately society suffers, and that there are many studies that support the positive impact of a nuclear family upon children.
Secondly, while I am a lay leader of my local church, what I’m posting doesn’t necessarily reflect their particular views, though it should be known that my views align with that denominational stance.
There are two key aspects I’d like to address in this posting. First, this SCOTUS decision does not mean that an organization like the Church must perform same-sex marriages. Secondly, I’ll explain what I believe the Church should be doing in light of this decision and why it hasn’t been optimally performing.
Per the online magazine’s article:
In the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, “four principles and traditions demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.” Those are:
1. “The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.”
2. “The right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.”
3. “[The right to marry] safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education.”
4. “Marriage is a keystone of our social order.”
According to the five-to-four majority, the 14th amendment guarantees the right to marry to same-sex couples as “part of the liberty promised” by the amendment.
RELEVANT spoke with Douglas Kmiec, professor of Constitutional Law and Caruso Family Chair in Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University’s School of Law and a former Ambassador of the United States, about what the decision means on a practical level for religious institutions.
“No church will be required to perform a same sex ceremony if that is believed to be contrary to their Christian or other religious perspective,” Kmiec says. …
But, Kmiec says, wedding ceremony officiating won’t be the “hard case.” Churches, of course, do other things. The most difficult cases, he predicts, will relate to outside and para-church ministries of churches.
For example, what happens when a faith-based school wants to hire employees who observe marriage like that school does, if that doesn’t include same sex couples? Can that school hire someone who is only married to a heterosexual person and exclude those in a same-sex marriage?
“I think the likely answer to that is going to be, ‘No,’” Kmiec says.
Churches and religious institutions and organizations receive particular tax-exempt status in the United States. Kmiec says that “no doubt,” these exemptions will come under fire, with efforts to “withdraw public subsidies, either direct or indirect, from institutions that don’t observe the principle of non-discrimination with regard to same-sex marriage.”
While the concept of religious freedom in America is admittedly very likely to be the next major battle for those who may be against the Church, the concept that a pastor or priest would be required to perform a same-sex marriage won’t likely be the biggest hill to proverbially die upon.
Instead, and as my second point, the issue is going to be how the Church responds to those who happen to either agree with same-sex marriage or are gay, per se.
On the one hand, I believe the Church should be open and inviting to all who wish to learn more about Christianity; that’s plain common sense, in my view — the Church isn’t here for those who already know Christ — she’s here for everyone else.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate boundaries on belief. For example, early on in my lay ministry time at my church, I asked leadership about what happens regarding disagreements or even security issues. The response was that we invoke a lot of plain-clothes individuals involved in general security, and for those who disagree, we simply believe that they might be happier at another local congregation. In other words, it serves no positive purpose to get into a shouting match or otherwise cause consternation for anyone.
Now, I’ve been using “legitimate” very specifically on this point. I am quite aware that there are those — by they gay or not — who have a beef with the Church, and have no quandary with entering on site to a particular location for the sole purpose of causing a problem. Obviously, this can happen, and nobody can stop anyone from suing an organization; I could sue for the sky not being green, though I’m not sure how far I’d get with such a suit!
In these instances, it would be fascinating (at least to me) to engage in a conversation with such a person. Why have they approached my organization? Is the issue one of same-sex marriage, or are there deeper anger/malice/regret issues going on? And why be so antagonistic, risking the concept of verbal assault upon parishioners (in the case of a Church)?
I believe it would be worthwhile to not back down, but instead I’d do my best to direct the energy towards a positive outcome, assuming that the other party is willing to go in that direction. What would not be appreciated is if the other party simply wants to disrespect me, themselves, and an organization with whom they chose to approach with their frustration, knowing it was their choice to approach me/the organization.
In other words, my believing brothers and sisters need to stop playing the victim in these circumstances. What prevents this from happening?
In theological terms, it’s referenced as the “two kingdoms doctrine” (the referenced Wikipedia link does a reasonable job explaining the concept).
Long story short, many within Protestantism have grown up and/or bought into the belief that there is a difference between the Church (or that which is spiritual) versus the world (or civil society) and that somehow God deals with these main spheres of influence separately.
I couldn’t disagree more with this theology, and I think it borrows more from a Gnostic worldview (e.g.: all spirit is good, all flesh is evil) and can get the Church into a lot of trouble.
So what’s the challenge here? Quite simply, the Church in America has done such a great job of not discussing “sex, religion and politics” (because church-goers are supposed to outwardly support God in the church building but be totally different the other six days of the week) that the Church has, over the past 75-some-odd years, lost any semblance of leadership in the culture.
And now we see what’s occurred.
Culture does not exist in a vacuum; something or someone, regardless of basis in truth, is going to take the lead. This is why I, personally, have had major soapboxes in terms of some people not liking what my specific church does regarding technology and cultural awareness. However, that is everyone’s loss.
If you’re a Christian and you want things to change in culture, it must start with you. You must engage in your personal sphere of influence, not by proselytizing, but by working your faith. That’s what it’s always meant to “stand firm” in your beliefs.
The good news is that God changed the world with twelve apostles. The bad news is ships like same-sex marriage have already left the port. We must all deal with the ramifications of this Supreme Court decision in society, much like we should have been dealing with Roe v. Wade with respect to abortion.
Having said all of the above, and in conclusion of this posting, the one thing I do not tolerate is intolerance. One saying I’ve learned over the years is, “true tolerance is tolerating intolerance,” but with one notable and huge exception.
If my adversary (intellectually, spiritually or otherwise) insists upon treating one class of people different from another (e.g.: Christians versus atheists, versus Muslims, versus Jews, etc.) purely because they do not like that class of citizens, I will continue to fight vehemently for the right of my adversary to agree to disagree. I don’t have to like you, but you and I will end the day respecting each other.
And that, dear reader, is the bottom line. Same-sex marriage isn’t going to single-handedly destroy America, and the Church is not required to perform same-sex marriages. Yet if the Church wants to take a leadership position in culture once again, it’s going to have to gear up for the position and stop playing the victim.