We lost this one. We and many others made the case to our culture that traditional marriage is God’s good design, that this institution, embodied by a man and a woman joining together, leads to social flourishing. But our culture is not convinced. Much to our disappointment, it is now the law of the land to permit other forms of “marriage.”
The temptation is to go off and sulk in our holy corner. Or to dig in our heels and fight harder. Or to lash out in anger. Or to despair. We can do better. Like taking to heart especially the Beatitudes:
Rejoice. Not in the decision, of course, but “Rejoice in the Lord always,” says Paul, “again I say rejoice.” And elsewhere, “Give thanks to God in all circumstances.” And this paraphrase: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, or prevail against you in the public square because of me. Rejoice and be glad…” (Matt. 5:11).
Rejoice in what exactly? Let’s just note the big things: That God has not gone anywhere. That Christ’s death and resurrection remain the power of salvation for all. That the gospel still goes forth. That the gates of the Supreme Court or Congress cannot prevail against Christ’s church. That there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That the kingdom will come—and that there remains a great deal of vital work for us to do in the church and in society until that day.
Repent. Another temptation now is to point the finger at the forces—political, social, philosophical, spiritual—arrayed against the church and its moral teaching. Without denying the reality of “principalities and powers” (Eph. 6:12), we do well to ponder this: What actions and attitudes have we imbibed that contribute to our culture’s dismissing our ethics? Our homophobia has revealed our fear and prejudice. Biblical inconsistency—our passion to root out sexual sins while relatively indifferent to racism, gluttony, and other sins—opens us to the charge of hypocrisy. Before we spend too much more time trying to straighten out the American neighborhood, we might get our own house in order. Blessed are the poor in spirit who mourn their sins (Matt. 5:3-4).
Rethink. This certainly means thinking afresh about what we will and will not do when, for example, a gay married couple, seeking to draw closer to God, shows up in church and wants to get involved. It nearly goes without saying that we will welcome them unconditionally as we would anyone who walks in the door. But what does love look like in this particular instance? How much participation do we encourage before we ask them to adopt the Christian sexual ethic? Much of this depends on a church’s tradition and its beliefs about baptism, church membership, eldership, and so forth. But many evangelical churches do not have a denominatonal tradition to lean on and will need to think through these matters with fresh urgency.
One issue that demands special attention is divorce and remarriage. The Bible has a fair amount to say about marriage (as much or more than it does on homosexuality), and yet the evangelical church has become lax about honoring the marriage vow. We use the word grace in a cheap way to avoid the awkward tough love of church discipline. Such inconsistency has been a major stumbling block for those outside the church. This does not mean we forbid all divorce, nor all remarriage. It does mean we evangelicals need to come to consensus about what constitutes legitimate biblical grounds for divorce and for remarriage, and maybe even create a covenant amongst ourselves that will help us to abide by our convictions on this matter.