20150626

Lose Graciously, Preach Patiently

[Updated 2Jul2015]
In the last two days, the Supreme Court of the United States has released two important decisions. The first came out yesterday and affirmed the structure, and therefore the practical existence, of the Affordable Healthcare Act (commonly known as, “Obamacare”). The second was this morning and decided that same-sex “marriage” must be allowed in all 50 states, and any same-sex “marriage” in one state must be recognized in all the others. I'm kind of looking forward to the next SCOTUS business day: something interesting will come!
            The same-sex “marriage” case, “Obergefell v. Hodges,” should not be a surprise to anyone. Public opinion on the issue has shifted swiftly and dramatically in the last half-decade, though the notions have been simmering for several decades. Essentially, when the first state legalized same-sex “marriage” (Massachusetts), then every state was challenged to recognize those “marriages” through the ‘Full Faith and Credit’ clause of the U.S. Constitution (U.S.Const. art. IV,  §1).
            As an attorney with a basic understanding of Federal-State relationships, as well as personal rights, it is tempting to launch into a legal analysis of the case. But the decision, and its dissents (here’s an initial survey: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2015/06/26/top-10-quotes-from-the-dissenting-justices-on-same-sex-marriage/), will stand on its own.
            I offer a few thoughts on the decision; shooting from the hip …
·      I was disappointed that the country has chosen to re-define marriage. There is no debate about what happened. When I hold up a red ball and ask you what color it is, you would be tempted to say, “red.” But now I, with the weapons of the government, say: “It is blue. Also red.” That is re-definition. The court today claims that re-definition of marriage has been a phenomena during all of the country’s history. For example, marriage was prohibited between members of different races. But it is one thing to prohibit marriage between members of a group and another to make gender into merely another group
·      While the concept of civil unions was promising for same-sex couples, ultimately structural discrimination still existed and same-sex couples found little pragmatic help in the Defense Of Marriage Act. It seems to me the failure of DOMA was that it still institutionalized significant discrimination
·      One statement by the court was that any union that was deemed lesser than full marriage would stigmatize the children of that union. Because the concept of civil union was clearly less than full marriage (see above), children of a same-sex union would be stigmatized. I am dismayed by the court’s lack of common sense: children of a same-sex couple are not going to be stigmatized by that couples’ standing before the law nearly to the extent of being stigmatized because the couple is homosexual
·      This leads to another observation: the language of the opinion is triumphant and uncompromising. That is, if you disagree with this notion, you are an outdated moral bigot. The SCOTUS has just declared open season on adherents of traditional marriage. I was personally surprised by this because it does seem to reflect the personality of Justice Kennedy, someone who I have met and chatted with
·      The decision explicitly calls out the protections of the First Amendment for “… religions, those that adhere to religious doctrines, and others ….” Well, we saw how well that worked out for bakers of wedding cakes so I’m not holding my breath
·      Lastly, there is nothing in the opinion that would prevent polygamous and/or polyandrous marriage. Several folks in Utah may be sharpening their legal pencils and within a day, several serious editorials were advocating going to that next step

Regardless, the matter is decided and will stand as law.
Many in the church have been confused about same-sex “marriage” and it seems to me they have confounded the authority of the government and strong public opinion with the authority of scripture. Yes, both public opinion and the law of our nation now affirm the legitimacy of same-sex “marriage.” But scripture does not.
Again, it seems to me well-interpreted scripture does not leave room for homosexual legitimacy any more than it leaves room for any other sexual sin. According to the Bible, homosexual behavior is sin. As such, homosexual behavior drives a wedge between a person and God just as far as theft, murder, dishonoring parents, and all other idolatries do. It is a different question altogether is homosexual behavior is more or less serious than those mentioned. Still, any sin separates us from God: murder and ‘polite’ lies have the same effect.
Further, scripture knows nothing of legitimate same-sex “marriage.” In both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, marriage is described as between genders and homosexual behavior is condemned. There will be lots of hip, cool, and savvy young evangelical Christians who want to challenge this conclusion, but it seems to me ultimately they will lose because the text itself doesn’t yield. To come to their place, they have to weaken, tweak, deconstruct, or flat out ignore the text. As a summary, there are about three scholarly arguments which attempt to deny the plain meaning of the relevant Biblical texts. Those arguments were demolished by a theological liberal in 2002. A fourth argument has come up, the "Trajectory" argument, but it loses, as well. Chat with me offline for details.
Here’s the deal, Church. We "lost." It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but we lost this one. Now – let’s be clear: while it seems like the church is the keeper of ‘civic morality,’ that really has never been the case. We have been fortunate to have been very influential, but the world will do its thing. In terms of the influence we seemed to have, we have lost this one. We will "lose" others in the future.
A few lessons from a talk that Darrel Bock gave back in November 2014 –

  1. The church needs to learn how to lose these battles graciously. Alas, I expect to be disappointed in my brothers’ and sisters’ responses. And … here we go: http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/06/25/christian-pastor-promises-to-set-himself-on-fire-if-gay-marriage-is-legalized-nationwide-audio/ There is a difference of expectation for behavior in general society and for followers of Jesus. Believers, calm down, do not over-react, and allow the fruit of the Spirit to bloom in your life; specifically: love, peace, patience, self-control, gentleness, goodness, kindness
  2. We need to continue to preach and discipline about ALL sexuality. We need to encourage young marriages to get through the rough patches. We need to guide our youth through the hyper-sexualized culture we live in. We need to affirm God’s descriptions of thriving human relationships between genders. As Kevin Miller stated, we need to understand that following Jesus is “a culture of consistent sexual sacrifice.” Additionally, we need to preach and discipline our responses to failure, sin, and rebellion with the grace and mercy of the gospel. Abuse and violence against gays, just as abuse and violence against children of single parents, must be vigorously condemned. In other words, even though we have ‘lost,’ we need to advocate with every breath what God has told us about human thriving
  3. At the same time, we need to understand and accept homosexuals as people who, very much like ourselves, desperately need Jesus. Just as for me, the best place for gay folk is in the pew hearing the good news about Jesus
  4. We need to be patient. Abortion is a hideous thing. When Roe v. Wade was decided, in 1973, we were in a similar position and the church ‘lost.’ But a curious thing happened on the way to 2015. Attitudes about abortion have shifted back. Even one of our most populist Presidents, Bill Clinton, once stated, “abortion should be safe, legal, and rare” (emphasis added). That was in 1996 and signaled the turning of the tide about abortion. Yes, abortion is still legal. Yet in the 40 years of our national experience with “safe” and “legal,” we are seeing the true costs. I am going out on a limb here, but suggest a similar experience with same-sex ‘marriage.’ In fifty years, we will see the true nature of this phenomena and the conclusion will not be positive
  5. Again, it is important to guard our responses. Any believer's position on this matter is NOT a litmus test for their love of Jesus, their sanctification, or the effect of God's atonement in their life. There are a LOT of Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, heaven-going Christians who disagree with me. This does not mean we hate, ridicule, or marginalize each other. I need to heed this as well and (in the last week) have edited my initial post accordingly. This post seemed to hit many of the right notes for me: http://frankewellersblog.blogspot.com/2015/06/heres-why-your-pastor-didnt-say.html?m=1
Last thing: this is not the end of the world. When we all go to sleep tonight, the sun will come up in the morning and God will still be on the throne. Yes, the world is going to Hell in a handbasket – but it has been doing that for a long time. This is why the gospel of Jesus needs to be proclaimed and lived out. Christian: let’s concentrate on doing THAT.

20150604

A Stream In The Desert

I came across this devotional this morning and it is something that should be shared. It is weak on exegesis, strong on sentimentality, but the conclusion is solid…

“The Lord caused the sea to go back … all that night.” (Exod. 14:21)

In this verse there is a comforting message showing how God works in the dark. The real work of God for the children of Israel, was not when they were awakened and found that they could get over the Red Sea; but is was “all that night.”

So there may be a great working in your life, when it all seems dark and you cannot see or trace, but yet God is working. Just as truly did He work “all that night,” as all the next day. The next day simply manifested what God had done during the night. Is there anyone reading these lines who may have gotten to a place where it seems dark? You believe to see, but you are not seeing. In your life-progress there is not constant victory; the daily, undisturbed communion is not there, and all seems dark.


“The Lord caused the sea to go back … all that night.” Do not forget that it was “all that night.” God works all the night, until the light comes. You may not see it, but all that “night” in your life, as you believe God. He works. – C.H.P.

1 Streams In The Desert, Cowman, 167, "June 4" (1978, Zondervan).