Today the Supreme Court redefined marriage. That’s what the news says anyway. For those who believe in a sovereign Lord of the Universe who is the Creator and Definer of all life and existence, we know that humans can never redefine what God has defined. Humans can only move dangerously away from the truth.
During the arguments before the Supreme Court, one primary issue that was raised a few times by Justice Kennedy was the issue of whether marriage bestows dignity upon participants. According to Kennedy’s logic, marriage bestows dignity upon individuals and ennobles them. All people deserve dignity, no matter their sexual orientation, and that dignity is protected under the 14th Amendment. Therefore, we must allow homosexual couples to “marry,” thereby bestowing dignity upon them.
The opposing lawyer argued that marriage does not bestow dignity, but rather the main purpose of marriage is centered around procreation. While I agree that this is a central purpose of marriage (not the central purpose of marriage), I believe this was a wrong move, both strategically and rationally.
Here’s why: It’s clear to all that marriage is a dignified institution, and those who participate in it are thereby ennobled. So denying this runs contrary to something that’s readily apparent and deeply embedded in each of us. However, the thing that makes marriage a dignified institution is not simply that we say someone is married and, “Boom!” they receive dignity from that declaration. Rather, marriage is a dignified institution because of it’s very nature–because of what it is. Let me elaborate.
First, marriage is dignified because at its core, marriage is the bringing together of two profoundly different and complementary individuals to become one, so that synergistically they are more complete together than they ever were apart. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” It’s this unity in diversity that makes marriage the glorious, dignified institution that it is. And our differences extend to the very core of our being, biologically, psychologically, and even spiritually. Our gender is essential to our being. In fact, in heaven, I will not be married, but I will be male. And same-sex couples cannot experience marriage and the dignity that it confers because they are not profoundly different and complementary. They are same-sex, homo–not hetero–sexuals. As Kevin DeYoung said,
The promotion and legal recognition of homosexual unions is not in the interest of the common good. That may sound benighted, if not bigoted. But we must say it in love: codifying the indistinguishability of gender will not make for the “peace of the city.” It rubs against the grain of the universe, and when you rub against the grain of divine design you’re bound to get splinters. Or worse. The society which says sex is up to your own definition and the family unit is utterly fungible is not a society that serves its children, its women, or its own long term well being.
Second, and most importantly, marriage is a dignified institution because it was a established by God to picture His relationship with His people. Ephesians 5:31-32 quotes Genesis saying, “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery– but I am talking about Christ and the church.” So a marriage between a man and woman profoundly pictures the gospel–the good news about Jesus. When a man sacrificially loves his wife, he pictures God’s sacrificial love for us. And when a woman lovingly submits to and responds to her husband, she pictures the churches obedience and love to God. Marriage explains the gospel and the gospel explains marriage. And when we distort this by calling something same-sex “marriage” that is not marriage we only muddle people’s thinking and diminish the sacredness and dignity of marriage within our culture.
Some have countered that allowing same-sex couples to marry will not take any rights away from heterosexual couples. I suspect that ultimately this will prove to be false, but more importantly this misses the larger point: When we call something “marriage” that in reality is not marriage this will inevitably lead to the erosion of the institution of marriage in our culture, and thus the erosion of a central picture of God’s relationship to His people. And so our entire culture will be spiritually hurt and further bankrupted by this muddled thinking. This is why Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”
So for Christians who live in a culture that is increasingly normalizing and institutionalizing sinful behavior, let me offer five suggestions:
- Recognize that our hope is not in this world. We should not feel despondent because this world is moving away from the truth. Indeed, we should expect it and expect the persecution that will accompany this. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:18-20). This world is not our home, and we need to remember that (Phil 3:20, John 17:15-16).
- Continue to uphold the picture of God’s relationship to His people through biblical marriage. Christians need to uphold biblical marriage. This means that we need to be aware of what the Bible teaches about marriage, divorce and remarriage, and we must strive in our personal lives to make our marriages a clear reflection of God’s relationship to His people. We must be clear that biblical marriage is the only legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship. Marriage is about something bigger and more important than personal happiness (though great personal happiness is a byproduct of biblical marriage), and Christians need to understand and embrace this reality. I highly recommend the book, The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller in this regard.
- Understand what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. Christians need to be equipped to speak about homosexuality with intelligence and respect. For those who seek to be equipped in this way, Kevin DeYoung’s book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? is a great place to start.
- Be careful to reinforce the truth with our speech. Because marriage is defined by God, there is no such thing as so-called “same-sex marriage.” This is a fiction that we should not reinforce with our words. For this reason, I don’t think we should use the terms “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage.” I think in our everyday discourse, we should say “so-called gay marriage” or “so-called same-sex marriage.” To use these terms only reinforces a fiction that is harming those who are engaged in it, which will make it more difficult and confusing for them should they repent.
- Embody both love and truth to this world that desperately needs both. We must not capitulate on the truth. But we also must be gracious and loving. Jesus is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and Paul exhorts us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). We must love others deeply, and recognize that homosexual behavior is the result of a deep brokenness of the soul. We must be ready for same-sex couples and the refugees of this sexual revolution to come into our churches and to have strategies for how we’ll lovingly share the truth with them, counsel them, and walk with them as they seek to live out the truth. As a friend of mine said,
Wrestling with any form of a gender identity issue is taxing on a person’s mind, body, and spirit. Struggles with depression, anxiety, hopelessness, isolation, and self-worth are all too common among those who grapple with such feelings. But, as I also know from personal experience, it is possible to struggle with gender identity issues and still live a faithful Christian life. But I have only been able to do that through knowing and experiencing both the love and the truth of Jesus Christ. And the truth is that the homosexual or transgender actions and lifestyles are sinful and God has made his attitude clear on these subjects (See Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Deuteronomy 22:5). Such actions will only lead a person down a dark, dangerous, and sometimes deadly path because they do not line up with God’s intended purposes for sexuality. However, this should not diminish our kindness or affection in any capacity for people struggling with these temptations or even those who live such lifestyles out in the open. Our God and Father in heaven loves them, and because he loves them, he desires for them to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). By coming to a knowledge of the truth, they may also come to be obedient to his will in order to live a holy and pure life before him (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Christians, if we want to love those in the LGBTQ community, we have to both stand for the Truth of God’s Word and offer Grace to those who struggle with or live in that lifestyle. Only then will our love be complete and in line with God’s perfect will.
Let’s resolve to love others without compromising the truth. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6).