By now, all are aware that the Supreme Court voted Friday in favor of same-sex marriage. In a 5-4 ruling, the decision placed the United States among the 19 countries that have accepted same-sex marriage on a federal level: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales), and Uruguay.
Many Christians see this as an utter defeat, believing that we have lost the battle and that society inevitably goes downhill from here. Others are holding out hope that there is some way that this will be overturned soon (it could, but it won’t). Some may be even moving to Texas, ready to secede from the U.S. (this can’t and it won’t—really Texans, look it up).
However, there are plenty of reasons for Christians to gird up their loins and find strength, knowing that yesterday’s decision should not alarm us too much.
1. The Government Does Not Have its Finger on the Pulse of Humanity, It Reflects It
We often look toward the government as the leader from which we get our guidance. This is primarily a United States phenomenon, but can be seen in the western world since the enlightenment. It is as if while philosophy and theology were our shepherds in an archaic age, the government is our pastor in an advanced age. Unfortunately, due to the high value we Americans place on the U.S. Constitution, the church has sometimes bought into this.
However, the government does not nor ever has been our leader. It only reflects the will of the people. Why has homosexual marriage been accepted by the Supreme Court? Because the will of the people wanted it this way.
Notice how drastically the polls have changed concerning this issue in a short period of time:
Popular opinion concerning gay marriage has changed significantly over the last decade. Therefore, the government changed. This is the way we set it up. For better or worse, due to popular opinion, the dynamics of the government and even the interpretation of the constitution will ebb-and-flow due to popular opinion. We elect the presidents who appoint the Justices who interpret the Constitution.
But, however it turns, whichever way the river of the government flows, it is not our leader. It just reflects the will of the people.
2. The Government Does Not Define Marriage
For some reason, we have bought into this the idea that the government can define marriage. However, whatever the government says about this issue, it is not in the marriage defining business. We believe that some certificate downtown tells us whether we are really married or divorced. This is simply not true. The government did not get into the marriage business until the post-Reformation era.
Gays seek governmental recognition of their marriage not for work benefits or issues of inheritance, but because, for them, it represents the ultimate line of acceptance that can legitimize their union. But the government does not really have that big a say in marriage (or divorce). A certificate downtown does not say whether one is married (or divorced).
As a society, Christians included, we have become so accustomed to the idea that government is the final arbiter of in this matter that we become bent out of shape when the government approves or disapproves it. After all, since sodomy was legalized, what does gay marriage really amount to that is different now? Before, they could live together, have sex, be committed to each other and even say they are married, but they could not have the government say they are married.
[Tweet “A piece of paper downtown does not define nor, ultimately, regulate marriage.”]
The government can say a white can’t marry a black (as was in the laws until mid twenteth-century), a hispanic can’t marry an oriental, a person who has been divorced one-hundred times can’t marry a person who has never been married, or a man can’t marry a man. But is the government’s legal approval an ultimate arbiter in this matters? All they can do is give governmental recognition to the marriage for legal purposes. While this has some definite benefit, a piece of paper downtown does not define nor, ultimately, regulate marriage.
Further Reading on this Subject: “Changing Our Thinking About Same-Sex Marriage”
3. The Government Is Not Forcing Us to Accept these Unions
I know that this is hotly debated and I know that good people disagree, but the government, at least at this point in time, is not forcing people to accept these marriages as legitimate (and I don’t think it ever will). The Supreme Court simply said that the government was not going to enforce a ban on same-sex marriages and states could not either. This does not mean that individuals must recognize what the government says on this matter. As well, it does not mean that churches or pastors have to perform same-sex ceremonies against their conscience. It does not mean that churches cannot refuse membership to those who are living in a same-sex relationship. It does not mean that the Credo House Coffee Shop has to accept and employ gay couples who are married. It simply means, according to them, that the governments cannot discriminate in this fundamental right. And, while I may disagree, I do understand their side.
4. The Government Calls on Us to Remain Involved
I have heard so many people say that we have lost. Let’s give up. “This county is gone from us, so let’s be gone from this country.” This is not only childish, but it is unbiblical. To take a passivist approach when things don’t go our way would be like saying when things don’t go well in a marriage, it is okay to give up.
[Tweet “To take a passivist approach when things don’t go our way would be like saying when things don’t go well in a marriage, it is okay to give up”]
Our country is still built upon the necessary involvement of its people. Without the votes of all people (whether they have really thought through the issues or not), the government will not work according to its original intent. Although there are few things some of us like less than politics, we must continue to punch our time sheet with the government, learning the issues and voting accordingly. So, if you don’t like the way this has gone (although its very unlikely something like this will ever get overturned), continue to speak out according to your beliefs. Let’s just all prioritize well and make balanced arguments, considering that we might very well be wrong.
[Tweet “We must continue to punch our time sheet with the government, learning the issues and voting.”]
5. The Government is Not the Final Line of Defense on Morality
We believe in the image God within all men. Therefore, we believe that morality runs much deeper than the government. Now, of course, the Bible does much to say about the positive role that the government plays in authority. Romans 13:1-7 speaks to the importance of obedience to the government. Romans 13:4, believe it or not, speaks of government as being “God’s servant.” And the Roman government of the day was not nearly as morally virtuous as ours.
For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.
But the government is not God’s final line of defense on morality. In fact, I would say there are four lights that the Holy Spirit uses to regulate and convict people of sin: 1) government, 2) the church, 3) the Bible, 4) the natural conscience. If the government were not here, we would still have three greater lights. The church, by its good and loving behavior, should be continually convicting people of the truth. The Bible has an inherent and objective testimony. And then there is the individual conscience, on which I want to spend some extended time.
Think about this for a moment: even if we only had the conscience, since we are created in the image of God, there would be so many things that, which often corrupted, would still be seen as wrong due our “inner light” from God. The Bible speaks of this in Roman 2:
So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them.
This tells me that while we are fallen and sinful, even those who don’t know the law or God will often follow God “instinctively.” So, people ask, what does this mean for our society now that the government has accepted gay marriage? Not too much. We have lost one of the lights, but maybe one that should not have shined in this area to begin with. But, even if we only had the basic instincts of humanity, I think this issue would self-regulate. After all, once all the dust settles from this sexual revolution, I don’t think there will be too many more people struggling with homosexuality. God did not create humanity this way. Therefore, there will not be too many gay marriages. Eventually, it will be no less shocking or revolting for so many to hear two guys call each other their husbands than it was to hear two guys call each other their boyfriend. And once all the cultural hype naturally wears off (and I believe it will), then gays will go back in the closet in most places, legalized or not. This is how it has happened in every society I have seen that has accepted homosexuality.
[Tweet “Once all the dust settles from this sexual revolution, there will not be too many more people struggling with homosexuality.”]
Think of it this way, if polygamy were legalized (and I don’t see anymore the reason it should not be), there would not be many people who have multiple wives. Why? Ask any guy or girl. One wife or husband is enough! As well, if incest were legalized (and, due to the same basic precedence, it could be someday), I really don’t see any more incestuous relationships happening than today. Why? Ask people why they don’t commit incest and you will never hear “Because the government says I can’t.” There are natural “instinctual” behaviors that will ultimately win out, not because the government is for or against it, but because God is still around in many ways without the government’s approval.
[Tweet “There are behaviors that will win out because God is still around without the government’s approval.”]
(I do think this is different with regard to the cultural acceptance of heterosexual promiscuity since it is based on a natural instinct that is common to man.)
6. The Republic Has Not Fallen
Though this is not a political blog, I am an American and therefore bound by biblical mandate to be involved in politics (Romans 13:1-7). I am a Republican. I don’t agree with everything in my party, but I can’t remember a time when I have not voted for the Republican president in the last twenty years. The primary reason I am a Republican is because I believe that the government (especially on a federal level) should be as small as possible, building roads and protecting the rights of its people (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness). I want as few laws as possible. For example, I want the government to stay out of the business of most of our sin. If the government were to introduce legislation that said it was illegal to commit adultery, I would object very strongly. Not because I don’t think adultery is a sin or very destructive, but because I don’t think it is the government’s job regulate this kind of morality.
The republic, in my view, falls when it becomes too big and intrusive on my rights. If it were to make laws against no-fault divorces, sodomy, fornication, adultery, being a drunkard, being lazy, or lying (although I am against all these things), this would be an indication that the republic is falling more than the legalization of gay marriage. Even my more liberal Democratic friends may agree up to this point. This is why I see health-care and abortion as much greater threats to the Republic than gay marriage (though my liberal Democratic friends would not agree there). We are all-to-happy when the government upholds our morals as Christians, but we need to be careful that our Christianity is not enforced upon our government. Our government needs to be as neutral as possible or the values of our founding fathers will fall under the hammer of religious tyranny once again.
[Tweet “Our government needs to be as neutral as possible or the values of our founding fathers will fall under the hammer of religious tyranny once again.”]
For these reasons, I don’t think we should be too alarmed about gay-marriage.
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C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]