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.
No matter the specific issue, we do well to remember that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness in such matters are blessed and will be filled (Matt. 5:6).
Re-engage. There is much talk today that the American church has been removed from a privileged place in society. We are said to now live “in exile” and “at the margins.” To some degree, yes, but then there is this:
A young Burmese man came into our offices a couple of weeks ago. He’s been in the US only five months. He said where he lived in Burma, Christians were restricted from building churches and schools. The social and political hostility toward his faith became so oppressive that he fled his homeland for Indonesia. There he was jailed for seven months because he didn’t have legal papers. Thanks to the work of World Relief, he is now in the US, grappling with a new language and culture, while trying to support his family on a near-minimum wage job.
That’s exile. We in the US are far from living at the margins. We still live in a society that protects free speech and free assembly, that supports religious freedom, that permits all its citizens to participate in governing at all levels. To be sure, we see serious challenges to these rights and liberties, challenges that require vigilence and hard work in the days ahead. But as it stands, these rights and liberties prevail here as nearly nowhere else in the world. Let’s make use of them for the common good—becoming peacemakers (Matt. 5:9) as best we can as we re-engage at all levels of politics.
Reach out. Now that the issue of gay marriage is decided, we may find that we have a greater opportunity than ever to build fruitful relationships with those in the LGBT community who have been hostile to all things Christian. Up to this point, we’ve been seen as a threat to their political agenda. Now that we have lost on the issue of gay marriage, that threat is removed and it may not be long before we see more willingness to engage us as fellow human beings. We should welcome and even initiate those moments as opportunities to share—in mercy (Matt. 5:7)—the good and beautiful news of the gospel like never before.
Rejoice. Again with Paul we say, rejoice. In particular, we rejoice because of God’s call for us at this critical juncture of history. Just as the 4th-century church was given the responsibility to think through the nature of Christ, and the 16th-century church had the task of pondering afresh the relationship of faith and works, so we in our time are called to think through and respond to a host of issues surrounding human sexuality. What we teach and what we do in our time will shape the church’s thought and life for generations to come.
This is not just the call of national or church leaders, but of every Christian household. Whether we’re lobbying in the halls of Congress to check the spread of sexual trafficking or teaching our children about the precious gift of sex, we are reinforcing and shaping the church’s teaching on sexuality. With great responsibility comes great gratitude for being entrusted with so crucial a work.
And so, we step into this uncharted future not with furrowed brow or nervous heart but with humility (“Blessed are the meek…”) and confidence (“… for they shall inherit the earth” Matt. 5:5). Christ remains Lord and is leading his church. Blessed are those who know this, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today.
Article image by Mark Fischer.