When New York acted to redefine the definition of marriage for their state, it was the latest in a long line of skirmishes over the institution of marriage. One could trace the war back several decades to the sexual revolution of the 1960’s or one could even make the case that this is a war brewing since Genesis 3. Wherever you begin to trace the battles, it is undeniable that in the past half decade, the fighting has become all the more fierce.
Still, even if you agree that these are important issues, you may disagree that pastor-leaders need to be more active or, positively stated, you may think that pastor-leaders have done just enough.
Today, I want to answer two questions that may be nagging you. First, what’s the urgency? And, second, does winning the battle matter?
What’s the urgency?
It might be beneficial for me to state that I believe the battle over the definition of marriage is less of a battle over the institution of marriage (though it is) and more of a battle over religious liberty. In fact, one could go further and argue that it is yet one more battle between conflicting worldviews, the Judeo-Christian and the secular humanist.
Thus, the urgency is less about the institution of marriage (though that is certainly important and in urgent need of support, not redefinition) and more about the Gospel. More specifically, this is a battle over whether we will be allowed to speak the Gospel.
Consider Al Mohler’s recent article in which one Muslim woman is attempting to compel the United States government to force her religion to alter its religious doctrine. If this is a legitimate use of the State, then what could stop the State from forcing churches to marry individuals whose lifestyles do not comport with Orthodox Christianity?
Beyond that, is it too much of a stretch to believe that the State could tell a pastor what they may or may not say in the pulpit? What about in the street?
Think also of the recent experience of one Ake Green, a Swedish pastor who had the audacity to preach the Gospel out of Romans 1, urging his congregation to believe what it said. For such adherence to orthodoxy, Ake Green was sent to jail.
Ask our pastor neighbors to the north if the ability to share the Gospel in Canada is easier or more difficult since the political definition of marriage changed.
A recent report in the New York Times indicates that Utah may be the next battleground. It appears that, using many of the same arguments that were used by same-sex activists, there is an effort underway to legalize polygamy. And, of course, there are the myriad of cases of how so-called, “anti-discrimination” laws are being used to suppress religious expression and promote homosexual behavior.
Moreover, because the law has a teaching function, many assume that what is legal is also moral. And that is one of the main points, isn’t it? Not only is there an active effort to redefine marriage and silence all of its critics, but with it comes the drowning out of any counter message.
Consider the recent messages coming out of the same-sex movement. If you have the radical inclination to support marriage as between one man and one woman, then you are a bigoted homophobe. If you’ve picked up on the not so subtle attempt to link the quest to politically redefine marriage with the civil rights movement and slavery, then your stand for Biblical marriage is likewise racist.
Pastors, then, face a predicament in teaching on marriage in the church. And, though I doubt many pastors will shrink from proclaiming Biblical truth in the pulpit, what about Joe Q. Pewsitter? Will his right to express his deeply held religious conviction while sharing the Gospel with his neighbor be upheld?
To answer that, consider the cases of Elaine Huguenin or David and Tonia Parker or the ‘Philly 11’ or Stephen Boissoin. Consider the intimidation Maggie Gallagher explains here or Denny Burk’s – a pastor-leader in his own right – correct analysis that the religious liberty protections offered in New York simply will not hold water.
To add to this urgency, did you know that the United States Senate just last week held a hearing for two and a half hours on what they called the, “Respect for Marriage Act (RMA),” a piece of legislation that would, in their words, “repeal the discriminatory and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?”
Eleven witnesses testified. Eight were sob-story witnesses who were clearly handpicked to declare the RMA the new Civil Rights Act. The three (Tom Minnery, Ed Whelan, and Austin Nimocks) who testified in favor of marriage between one man and one woman where vilified and, when they weren’t, simply ignored, as Senators, to borrow from Romans 1, “gave approval to those who do such things.”
The point is this: while it seems that this is merely an effort to gain, “equality” on the issue of marriage, the experience of what happens after the definition of marriage is politically altered reveals that religious liberty suffers.
As a result, what we lawyers call freedom of speech and what pastors call evangelism, is chilled if not entirely silenced.
If the Gospel is to be silenced by an act of the state, does that not merit a response from the church, through its leaders?
Perhaps now you can see the urgency. But, let us answer the second question.
Does winning the battle matter?
This type of question often quickly follows a discussion, like we have been having this week, on a Biblical issue that is being debated in the world of politics.
We are quick to default to an, “us v. them” or “win v. lose” mindset. But, in order to preserve the space for the Gospel to be spoken, to some degree, we do need to win these political debates.
Preserving the space in which to do good is one of the chief duties Paul, in Romans 13, outlines for government in the first place. If our elected government fails to prserve the fundamental right of ‘we the people’ to do good works, then we ought to do all in our power to hold them accountable and, in this case, defend the institution of marriage.
At the same time, our government is very close to failing in its duty to restrain evil, which, as I have here outlined, will bring the added failure by government to deny the space in which the Gospel may be taught.
Pastors, have you considered this great gift that is our government of, by, and for the people? Why do we not as a church rejoice over – and then fully seize – such an opportunity to correct a government intent to fail in its duty to protect those who seek to do good?
Still, we need to be careful our duty to actively submit to government does not slip into terms of conquest. Our duty is to be faithful, articulating the Biblical defense of marriage and the very Gospel that is reflected in it. The very purpose of government is to point us to our need for a savior by recognizing that left to ourselves we would do only evil, all the time. Our interaction on political issues should likewise point people to the Savior!
So, to these pastor-leaders who were quick to respond with a Gospel message about the importance of hell, I ask why there was no quick response of a Gospel message about the doctrine of government and the creation ordinance of marriage when marriage was politically redefined in New York? What better time to proclaim the Gospel?!
Perhaps many of these pastor-leaders (or even the church as a whole) simply do not know the appropriate next steps to take. That is the subject we shall explore tomorrow.
About Jeremy Dys
Jeremy Dys is the FPCWV's President and General Counsel. In addition to his duties of providing strategic vision and leadership to the FPCWV, Dys is the chief lobbyist and spokesman. Dys is regularly featured in local, state, and national print, radio, and television outlets. He lives close to Charleston with his wife and growing family.