Opening Our Eyes to Obergefell and Its Effects: A Pastoral, Cultural, and Legal Round-Up

SCOTUSOn June 26, 2015, in a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states. In the hours that have passed, Christians have been praying and wondering aloud what comes next and how we should respond. To aid our collective understanding of the Supreme Court’s decision, I’ve listed dozens of resources under the following headings:

  • The Decision: What Did the Court Decide?
  • On the Pastoral Front: What do we say to our church?
  • On the Cultural Front: What do we say to our neighbor?
  • On the Legal Front: What about religious liberty?

I am so thankful for the men and women who have been reporting and commenting on these issues. May their wise words aid you—as they have me—to think and pray and act with grace and courage for truth in these days. Still before reading any of these posts, let me encourage you to watch this two minute exhortation from Russell Moore, president of the ERLC.

The Decision: What Did the Court Decide?

Denny Burk has succinctly captured the heart of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision:

1. Does the 14th Amendment require states to issue marriage licenses to two people of the same sex?

2. Does the 14th Amendment require states to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states?

The Supreme Court requires all states to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Gay marriage is now legal and required in all 50 states. Here’s the actual language from the holding:

The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.

You can find the whole text at the Supreme Court website. I would encourage you to read the whole document because it will give you a sense of how the majority justices are arguing their points and how the dissenting justices understand the decision to undermine the constitution and the state of democracy in our country.

For those who do not have the time or the patience to read the whole document, you can get a sense of its contents by reading Joe Carter’s “50 Key Quotes from the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Decision.”

You can also find help in Carter’s “Explainer: What You Should Know About the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Decision.”

Finally, Albert Mohler’s special edition of “The Briefing” sums up the Obergefelle v. Hodges decision in audio format.

On the Pastoral Front: What Do We Say to the Church?

So Called Same-Sex Marriage: Lamenting the New Calamity (Desiring God) — Before penning words to analyze what happened last Friday and before drafting new policies to safeguard their churches, we should weep over what has happened. On that note, John Piper gives a moving biblical meditation embodying the words of Psalm 119:136: “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” Churches who want to have an impact for Christ in the days ahead must not only have minds renewed but hearts wounded over the pain that this decision will bring and enforce in our nation.

Russell Moore and the ERLC — Perhaps the most plain question on our minds right now is, “How should we think about the Obergefell decision?” Addressing that question head on, Russell Moore gives a six-minute audio response. Expounding that audio message, he has also written a compelling article on “Same-Sex Marriage and the Future.” In the latter, he calls on pastors to avoid being the court prophet who seeks to please people—either the cultural elites gloating in their Gay Pride or the cultural conservatives trusting in another election cycle to reset our social mores. With gospel-saturated wisdom, Moore calls for conviction and kindness as we stand for Christ in these challenging days. Finally, if you are not familiar with the work of the ERLC, let me encourage to keep up with their website, podcasts, and articles. They are leading the way in helping pastors and churches think about marriage, sexuality, and legal matters related to same-sex marriage and religious liberty. As an example, here is a sample of some of their resources:

Everything has changed and nothing has changed: The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage (Albert Mohler) — Albert Mohler’s commentary, as usual, provides clear thinking about the nature of this decision, its unprecedented judicial over-reach, and the threat this decision poses to Christians and religious liberty.

A Word to Pastors Preaching in the Aftermath of the Obergefell v. Hodges (Denny Burk) — Burk addresses pastors preaching yesterday, but his words are true at any time and especially true when cultural crises invite us to change our approach. His counsel is worth remembering: In preaching (1) be biblical, (2) be courageous, (3) be practical, and (4) be holy.

On Interpretation (A Man from Issachar) — It is an important lesson for pastors that much of this controversy springs up from poor hermeneutics—i.e., the majority justices instead of reinforcing the Constitution have added new meaning to original document. As pastor-theologian Eric Redmond points out “hermeneutics is king” and in this case we have a hermeneutical problem. This problem is not left in the hands of lawyers and politicians either, the same hermeneutics are being used in churches to defend homosexuality from the Bible. Such a process requires ongoing creative interpretations and willful intention to foist upon Scripture a reading from outside the text. Additionally, D. A. Carson speaks about

On the Cultural Front: What Do We Say to Our Neighbors?

Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage (ERLC) —  On June 26, the ERLC issued a statement dissenting with the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same sex marriage. Rooting its arguments in Scripture and the belief that marriage is God’s institution to define, the statement expresses what orthodox Christians (and nearly every society) has always affirmed and practiced—that marriage is the covenantal, conjugal union between a man and a woman. For any church or organization that wants to vocalize its agreement with the Bible and its disagreement with the devastating sexual liberation of our culture (now expressed in the Obergefell decision), this is the statement to adopt.

Of greatest import, in my opinion, is the positive and proactive stance taken in the statement. Instead of loudly decrying the culture and the Supreme Court, it highlights the centrality of the gospel  and calls for us to speak the truth in love and act for the good of our neighbors. Here’s how it reads:

The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:

  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Rom. 13:1-7);
  • the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
  • affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
  • love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
  • live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
  • cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper.

CBMW’s Official Response (CBMW) – The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood also issued a statement, in which they affirm six biblical truths in response to the SCOTUS decision.

  1. Biblical marriage is defined as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman (Gen 1:26-27; 2:24; Matt 19:4-6; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19).
  2. Sexual complementarity undergirds biblical marriage (Gen 1:28, 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14).
  3. Biblical marriage pictures the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 5:21-33).
  4. Homosexuality is declared by God a sin (Lev. 18:22; Deut. 23:17-18; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10).
  5. The true church of Jesus Christ will not cave on biblical marriage (2 Corinthians 4:2; Eph 5:21-33; 2 John 9; Jude 3).
  6. We will continue to love and extend grace to every sinner (Matt 5:14; Luke 14:23; Rom 3:23; 1 Cor 5:12; Eph 2:8-9).

You can read the whole thing here. You can also find a helpful commentary on practical steps on how to hold these truths from Owen Strachan, the president of CBMW: The Supreme Court Has Ruled, What Should Christians Do?

Other Resources — More personally, it is vital that Christians learn how to love, listen, and learn from friends and family in the LGBT community even as we hold forth the unswerving truth that homosexuality is a sin, same-sex marriage violates God’s design, and that Christ came to redeem sexual sinners of all stripes. SCOTUS’s decision doesn’t change any of that. If anything, it makes our calling all the more urgent to speak the truth in love and embody kindness and conviction even as we suffer for our beliefs. For help engaging those conversations, let me point to a number of resources—new and old.

Equip –  Finally, a new resource for pastors and churches has been created by the ERLC and TGC. It is called Equip and it will be a go-to place for videos, audio, articles, and book recommendations on all subjects related to same-sex marriage and homosexuality.

On the Legal Front: What About Religious Liberty?

Legal Threats

Justice Scalia and Clergy-Solemnization of Same-Sex Marriages (Canon & Culture) — Though written prior to the Obergefell decision, Michael DeBoer’s article outlines six likely implications of Friday’s decision. Some of them include the eventual loss of tax exemption for religious organizations, but others go far beyond that likely “next step”:

  • Federal, State, and Local Governments Will Be Required to Comply with and Enforce the Newly-Minted Federal Constitutional Right.
  • A Newly-Minted Federal Constitutional Right Will Be Enforceable Against State Governments Under Federal Law.
  • A Newly-Minted Federal Constitutional Right Will Force Changes to State Licensing and Regulation of Marriage Solemnization.
  • The First Amendment and the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act Will Afford Little or No Protection to Those Whose Religious Freedom Is Burdened by Government Action Enforcing This Newly-Minted Federal Constitutional Right.
  • A Ruling Creating This New Federal Constitutional Right Will Bear All the Markings of the Court’s Most Controversial Twentieth-Century Constitutional Jurisprudence.
  • Some Clergy Would Refuse to Perform Same-Sex Marriages Based upon Their Religious Beliefs and Would Face the Loss of Civil Authority to Solemnize Marriages on Behalf of the State and Other Possible Sanctions.

In short, SCOTUS’s decision does not simply extend marriage to same-sex couples, it also redefines the way churches work in America and the way public policy is created too. This was the point that the dissenting justices made clear when they observed that Friday’s victory for gay rights was accomplished above and beyond the constitution. What is at stake in America is nothing less than the loss of democracy. And so, while Christians have reason to hope that a great door of public witness is gained by SCOTUS’s decision, it will come at the expense of “life as we know it” in the United States. To see the already burgeoning changes coming our way just consider a few other articles highlighting legal challenges.

Schools Fear Gay Marriage Ruling Could End Tax Exemptions (New York Time) – Laurie Goodstein and Adam Liptak survey the concerns of many conservative Christians and other legal scholars about the potential for the Oberfelle decision to put religious tax exemption in jeopardy. This is a good place to begin reading, if one is not familiar with the 1983 SCOTUS decision against Bob Jones policy to ban interracial dating/marriage and the logic of how that decision might impact future judicial rulings concerning schools which ban same-sex marriage, dating, etc.

Now’s the Time to End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions (TIME) — It didn’t take long to hear an argument for ending religious tax exemptions. Mark Oppenheimer’s piece in Sunday’s “Ideas” section of TIME (06.28.15) argues for just that—the end of tax exemptions for nearly every religious institution.

Legal Responses

Same-Sex Marriage and Higher Education (ERLC) — Another place where religious liberty is imperiled is the Christian college. Albert Mohler speaks to that issue as he explains that higher education will be a inevitable place for conflict between erotic liberty and religious liberty. Of course, this will not effect liberals who have embraced erotic liberty, but it will negatively effect conservatives who stand for the traditional view of marriage in the Bible.

How to protect your church against sexual orientation and gender identity lawsuits — Denny Burk outlines 5 steps churches (from the booklet listed below) that all churches need to implement to ensure they are legally defensible should a lawsuit be brought against the church. And yes, there will be lawsuits. In these five steps churches must

  1. Uphold (or in most cases update) their statement of faith so that it clearly expresses three elements ”
    1. (a) a statement on marriage, gender, and sexuality,
    2. (b) a statement of final authority for matters of faith and conduct, and
    3. (c) a statement on the sanctity of human life.” Churches must also
  2. Create (2) job descriptions for every position wherein staff/volunteers must affirm the statement of faith.
  3. Put in place policies related to (3) facility use, (4) formal membership, and (5) marriage.

What Your Church Needs to Know—and Do—About the Court’s Marriage Decision (TGC) — Erik Stanley, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, echoes and abbreviates Burk’s 5 steps. Like Burk, he points to the booklet “Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits,” to which all churches and gospel ministers should familiarize themselves. His three actions steps are:

  1. Churches should update their statement of faith on the issues of marriage, human sexuality, and gender.
  2. Pastors will not be legally compelled to officiate same-sex wedding ceremonies—for now.
  3. Churches should ensure their facilities usage policies are revised to allow only uses consistent with the church’s religious beliefs.

Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits (ADF & ERLC)  For a more thorough discussion of legal matters, the Alliance Defense Fund and the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission have prepared a 44-page booklet to help churches brace themselves from the coming storm. Of course, this is good counsel for churches in urban and university settings, but smaller churches in more remote locations should not trust in their small town location. Matters of religious liberty are going to effect all of us, and thus this booklet serves as a needed and trustworthy guide to putting in place guidelines and policies to protect the Lord’s church. Yes, the Lord will ultimately defend the church, but that doesn’t permit faithful Christians from abandoning legal protection and judicial wisdom.

A Hopeful Summary

If you have read this far, I applaud you and lament with you.

In reading these articles, my heart sunk . . . repeatedly. It sinks for my country that has legislated a form of sexual anarchy that will in time be shown to devastate marriage, families, children, and the common good of our country.

My heart sinks for those who rejoice in the Obergefell decision, unknowing the kind of damage it will have in the end. As Proberbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man (or a woman), but in the end leads to death.” Such was the decision on Friday. It was an invitation to legislate and approve of a practice that cannot produce life; it can only take it.

Therefore, my heart sinks for those who believe that this victory promises life and liberty, when it only heightens estrangement from God. Yes, my heart sinks for the threats that are now coming to the American church. But even more, my heart sinks for those who have called evil “good,” and good “evil.” May God lead many of these men and women to Saul-like conversions on the road to Damascus.

That said, I am also hopeful. I am hopeful in the way that the SCOTUS decision has galvanized the church. While I’m sure there are many unseemly (and unChristian) responses by “Christian” people, all the ones I have listed above desire to express their conviction with genuine compassion. The models I have seen have expressed humility, sorrow, and intense longing for the lost. May the Lord increase their number, and may all Christians remember that the anger of man never produces the righteousness of God (James 1:19–21).

In fact, as Russell Moore said in the opening video: Christians, of all people, have no reason to panic or to be outraged. Just the reverse, when we look around at the way God is working among the church, I believe there are numerous reasons for encouragement.

Truly, I wonder if  America disintegrates in the coming decades, the Lord might purify, mobilize, and revitalize the church in America in fresh ways? Could it be that the hardening of the arteries and the softening of mid-section that the twentieth-century American church experienced might be brought back to health in the years to come? Could it be that in these days, God would pour out his Spirit on the church in unprecedented ways, such that while exemptions are lost, privileges are revoked, names are called, and property is confiscated, God’s people might show the world a kind of truth-loving compassion that draws many (thousands? millions?) to faith?

Lord, may it be so. Bring revival to our nation and may you use the Obergefell decision to open our eyes to the needs around—needs that can only be met by your grace and mercy. Needs that can only be remedied by the power of the gospel and the personal presence of Jesus Christ. You have promised to pardon and empower all who call upon your son. May Christians who stand in need of grace be the first to confess their sexual sins and unloving ways and now turn to proclaim a message of forgiveness, hope, and holiness to the LGBT community and all those currently ensnared by same-sex marriage.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

3 thoughts on “Opening Our Eyes to Obergefell and Its Effects: A Pastoral, Cultural, and Legal Round-Up

  1. Pingback: Desert Springs Church Blog » Troubled and Trusting: A Sunday Prayer after the Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage

  2. Pingback: Friday’s 5 to Live By | Biblical Counseling Coalition Blogs

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