Since the June 26 decision was announced by the Supreme Court to end the rights of states to consider marriage only between a man and a woman, there has been an awful lot of talk about what it means for society, for the church, and for a variety of institutions. Given that this has been an issue in the Church for well over a decade, we are probably quite tired of the issue. I did address it in my June 28 sermon. But I feel something in writing in the newsletter is needed for closure. The issue is public, and I do not believe it is honest for pastors to ignore the issue. I rarely comment on politics or Supreme Court rulings. But I believe this one is transcendent and a watershed moment in history. To ignore it would be unfair to you. If you’ve read enough on the topic, feel free to ignore it. But there isn’t always time in a sermon to say all that needs to be said.
Let me start by saying that I empathize with those who understand themselves to be gay by nature, from an early age. Some in conservative circles deny this reality or even posit childhood abuse or unusual family dynamics as reasons some consider themselves gay. I do not think that is helpful, and I do not deny that many understand themselves as intrinsically gay. I do believe that engaging in homosexual acts is a choice, just as virtually all of our actions are our choice. But I would not deny that there are a great number of people who do not feel that “being gay” is a choice any more than my “being straight” is a choice.
I also want to say that those of us concerned about gay marriage should be equally concerned by the mountain of sin in the heterosexual world. I am equally bothered by the proliferation of pornography and by “mainstream” books and films like Fifty Shades of Grey as I am by some of the more raucous behavior at a Pride Parade, for example. We are all called to chastity, in marriage and in singleness, regardless of what we believe our orientation to be.
The reason this issue is important is because it truly is a Gospel issue. If the Church refuses to lift up what the scriptures teach on this issue, what other issues might we be free to ignore? Ignoring or condoning homosexual acts compromises the Gospel. Is this the most important issue in the Bible? Of course not! It is true it is singled out only six times, maybe a few more. But it happens to be the issue we are faced with today. My concern is that eventually, words and concepts like sin, repentance, and judgment will all be replaced with words and concepts like love, grace, and acceptance, and there will be no balance. We must be able and willing to tell the truth at all times, no matter the difficulties.
But aside from the moral issues, why should I care what this secular court decides? Do I think I will be asked to preside at a gay wedding, and be sued if I decline? Maybe, but it seems doubtful. There will always be plenty of congregations and pastors who will be open to presiding at such weddings and it seems likely that the kind of activism that has previously “caught” churches and businesses that “discriminate” will come to an end.
I am concerned about the confusion that will take place in Christian institutions that deal with the government, however. Most notably, I am concerned for Christian universities and charities that receive federal funding or aid with student loans. If they refuse to recognize same-sex marriages as legitimate, will they be “cut off” from government aid and support? (I think so.) Will this eventually destroy Christian colleges, since the federal government is behind so many loans and grants? (Perhaps.) Will military chaplains be free to say what they feel if they disagree? (Probably not.) Will charities that provide affordable housing still be able to receive federal money if they recognize marriage as only between a man and a woman? (Probably not.)
And for those who believe Justice Kennedy’s lone paragraph that promises religious freedom is protection, they should reconsider. Just as with the Obamacare rulings, which only recognized the freedom of religious groups to worship freely (when Catholic charities had to offer insurance that paid for abortion and contraception), his paragraph says only that religions have the right to “advocate” and “teach” what they believe to be true. Justice Roberts pointed out this was far less than the “exercise” of religious freedom the First Amendment protects. And this paltry reminder by Justice Kennedy of our religious freedom concern me.
A final concern. The loss of religious freedom will affect us all. I am reminded of Martin Niemoller’s famous quote: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
There is no biblical promise of religious freedom. It has been a luxury and a grace we have enjoyed for a long time. I hope my concerns are the paranoid thoughts of a fearful and sinful man. But if I am right, then no matter your personal feelings on the ruling, you should be concerned that religious liberties may soon diminish. And then, all our liberties will then be on the table. And there may be no one to speak for you.