When the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, it certainly seemed like the tide of our culture would continue to steadily move toward the acceptance of gay marriage. After the ruling by the Supreme court this week, the issue for Christians in North America is just as relevant as ever.
So, what now? How are followers of Jesus Christ, and the church, to think about and respond to the decision made by the Supreme Court? It is crucial that the church as an institution, and individual believers, respond well. John Freeman, president of Harvest USA, a ministry devoted to those struggling with sexual sins, wrote the following six things to keep in mind after the Supreme Court decision:
1. We should not lash out in anger or be afraid.
A fight-or-flight response is normal when cataclysmic events occur. But both these instinctual responses are unhelpful and unproductive. My wife has often told me, “John, when you speak or react out of fear or anger, bad things come out of your mouth.” She is usually right. We may legitimately fear where this decision will next take our nation; and we may legitimately be angry over how God’s design for the institution and function of marriage as it has historically benefited society is being hijacked. But we need to keep this in mind: As believers, our true citizenship is in heaven. We must think and act like those whose world has been impacted but not devastated.
I think a more productive response would be that of grief. We need to be grieved at what happened, grieved at the state of the culture, and grieved at how blind people are to the truth. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and her refusal to turn to him as its shepherd, and the Old Testament displayed a similar common response to tragic national events, where the people grieved in sackcloth and ashes. Just grieve? Doesn’t seem very productive or helpful. It feels so powerless! But we need to remind ourselves that the weakness of the church is how the power of God is best displayed. The reason we don’t have to be angry or afraid is because …
2. We need to remind ourselves that God is still on the throne, neither slumbering nor sleeping.
Although decided in the private chambers of the Supreme Court, this has not happened out of God’s sight. He is the God who knows all and sees all. This is beyond our rational understanding, but by faith we believe that God remains in control over all things, even over the decisions made by man and society that veer away from his wisdom. To respond with anger or abject fear is to forget this.
Why God has allowed the acceptance of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage to be so prominent today will remain a mystery at some level. Why he has allowed it to split churches, denominations, and families must also be trusted to his providence. We only know what Scripture does tell us: that this is a broken world, a world where his image-bearers are in rebellion against him and his intentional design for creation. Nothing really new here. We must, as his followers, trust in Him at all times, especially when it seems that ungodliness has the upper hand. This is the courage of faith, and that courage must also move us to . . .
3. Boldly and gently proclaim the ultimate destructiveness of ungodly actions.
While many will celebrate this decision as the advancement of an enlightened society and a triumph of inclusiveness and tolerance, the reality is that actions made in opposition to God’s design carry with them significant consequences. Several years ago, noted pastor, teacher and author James Boice, said, “It’s God’s world, not our world. Although we may want to rewrite the rules, we can’t, because it’s God’s world. And sin is destructive, whether or not we admit or agree, it’s still destructive.” By removing the definition of marriage from its historical and God-designed nature as being between one man and one woman, how long will it be before other forms of so-called “marriage” will be legal (such as polygamy and polyamory)? What will be the effect on children and families as we move into territory that is completely new to human society?
These kind of ungodly decisions serve to remind us that the world in which we live is hostile to things of God. It reminds us that we live here as “aliens and strangers,” that we’re temporary residents of a foreign land. But it still remains a world that God so loved that he sent his only Son, so . . .
4. We must not avoid our calling: to engage the culture and all people with the truth and mercy of the gospel.
Even as culture goes off the rails, and we may seem powerless to stop it, we’re not off the hook from engaging it and actively loving people. Although we may want to retreat and go into self-protective mode, we must not. The church did not do so as the Roman culture descended into greater ungodliness and injustice. The downward spiral of our society and the increasing celebration of what is explicitly forbidden in God’s word make our sharing the gospel more important than ever! The gospel is the only hope for a broken world and fallen hearts. For this reason, the church must not attack and demean gays and lesbians because of this issue. The gospel is a message of hope for everyone; not a platform for condemnation and ridicule. The gospel is heard through the words and deeds of His people. Another way to put this is our need to …
5. “Keep calm and carry on” as God’s people and his church.
During World War II during the bombing, people in Britain felt that the world was falling apart. “Keep calm and carry on” became a common phrase on billboards and posters as a way to encourage the British people. We need to follow this advice as well. How do we do this when we see everything around us in a downward spiral and decay? We lean on and trust in the Rock of our salvation, who is still with his people while we continue to carry out his Kingdom work.
We must not let these things have more power over us than they really do. And, thankfully, we still live in a country that allows our views to be heard and we should make our concerns known about the reality of unintended consequences making further trouble and about the future of religious liberty—two major issues embedded in this controversy. But, again, we should not place our faith in any human political or legal structure as our ultimate protector or savior. Jesus said that his kingdom was “not of this world”—neither is ours. The mission of the church continues. The church cannot be either dismissed or destroyed. It remains God’s vehicle of redemption, worked out through his people. That mission will endure until he returns. And in the meantime, the church—and especially the next generation inside her doors— needs to be strengthened by …
6. Relevant and effective preaching and teaching about sex.
The silence of the church on many issues has contributed to the emergence of movements that have been detrimental to mankind (see: Germany and the rise of Nazism). It can be argued that the church’s failure to preach and teach about why God’s design for sexuality is good, relevant, and functional (even in a broken world) has created a vacuum for the acceptance of same-sex relationships. The church has said “No!” for too long as its main message on sexuality and now needs to say “Here’s how,” or here’s how God’s design for sexuality remains the best venue for people and society to flourish.
John Freeman is president of Harvest USA, a ministry devoted to helping those with sexual struggles and sins. He has a deep burden to see those who struggle with pornography, homosexuality, and other sins experience changed lives through Jesus Christ. A native of Chattanooga, Tenn., John is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvnia and lives with his wife, Penny, of 30 years in Philadelphia.
by Sam Allberry
The polarizing debate about homosexuality has consumed our modern culture, not only in the secular space but within the church itself. Denominations are splitting over the issue, and concerned Christians are struggling to articulate their position on the issue with clarity.
Sam Allberry, a pastor from England, simplifies the issue with profound clarity in Is God Anti-Gay? A must-read for any Christian desiring to be “in the world and not of the world,” this book ably defends the standard of God’s Word with insight, compassion, and grace.