Today the Supreme Court delivered its 5-4 decision declaring that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. This decision has the most immediate impact on those states who had banned same sex marriage. (In Delaware same-sex marriage has been legal since May 11, 2011.) It will take time to see what the long term implications of this ruling are for our nation. I commend to you Chief Justice Roberts' dissenting opinion if you want to understand more of the potential legal and cultural implications. For the first time in his career the Chief Justice read his dissent aloud, signaling how strongly he opposed the ruling. Several things are clear from Justice Roberts' dissenting opinion:
- On the Role of the High Court: Justice Roberts finds this decision to be a severe overstepping of the role of the Supreme Court. His language in this regard is extremely strong, at one point suggesting that the very authority of the court is undermined by such a ruling and that democratic process is threatened. The Chief Justice is incredulous that "five lawyers" would set aside the will of a people, the tradition of a nation and millennia of history to make such a ruling by judicial fiat.
- On the Potential for Further Redefinition of Marriage: Roberts argues that the logic of the majority opinion leads to plural marriage. In fact, he posits that the leap from opposite sex marriage to same-sex marriage is a much bigger leap than the leap from same-sex marriage to plural marriage.
- On the Implications for Religious Freedom: The Chief Justice expresses serious concern for people of faith who oppose same sex marriage on the basis of religious conviction. He notes that while the majority opinion maintains that those who oppose same-sex marriage because of religious conviction may continue to teach their view, the majority ominously omits the concept of the "free exercise" of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. Roberts sees significant challenges ahead for religious institutions. The Chief Justice took direct aim at the way in which the majority opinion "sullied" the other side, presenting those who oppose same sex marriage as bigots.
You can find the entire opinion here. It is 29 pages, but readable and very helpful. Were a pastor to make the types of statements that Justice Roberts makes in this opinion, one might be inclined to suspect exaggeration. But the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is known to be a temperate man. His level of concern over this ruling suggests that something has occurred which will impact us all in a lasting manner. We don't know how this ruling will impact us. We also don't know when it will impact us. Only time will tell.
Since this is such an important ruling from the Supreme Court, what should EPC do differently? Nothing. We at EPC need no new strategy to minister in this cultural context. We will continue to be the people that God has already been shaping us to be:
- We will continue to be a church that preaches the gospel clearly and the whole counsel of God regularly. We will continue to be one of the friendliest churches you have ever visited regardless of your background.
- We will continue to provide spaces in our church (like Christianity Explored on Sunday Morning and MOPS on Friday) where people from all lifestyles and walks of life can come, be loved, ask their questions, and learn about the gospel. We will seek to create more spaces like this in the future.
- We will continue to the ministry of Divorce Care. In the future, a person from a broken same sex union may seek healing community in our Divorce Care ministry. They will be received with the love of Christ.
- Your pastors will continue the relationships that we currently have (that's right, we currently have these relationships) with people from the LGBT community, seeking to show the love of Christ and share the gospel of Christ.
- We will not be angry or out of sorts about the culture because we know that Jesus reigns, that he has placed us here in this time for this people, and that he will watch over us. (That doesn't mean that it will be easy. But it does mean that we can have confidence that He will be at work for our good in all that we face.)
- At times Pastor Knott and myself will have to tell people that we cannot officiate their marriage ceremony because their marriage would be contrary to Scripture. We will lovingly counsel them toward Jesus. If this couple happens to be a same sex couple then we won't be being inconsistent because we have told heterosexual couples the same thing on more than one occasion.
- We will not make the mistake of seeing every person seeking to find fulfillment in a same sex relationship as an activist who wants us to lose our tax exempt status and wants our ministry to fail. There are those people, but they are not the majority. Most LGBT people are busy with their lives and seeking love and fulfillment like everybody else.
- We will continue to hold out the truth of Scripture with regard to God's design for human flourishing. We will never tire of holding out the grace of the gospel for those who have sinned in same sex relationships just as we do not tire of extending the grace of the gospel for those who sin in heterosexual relationships.
- We will teach our young people about sexuality from a Biblical perspective. We won't dodge the hard questions or issues. We won't be prudish from the pulpit, but we won't be salacious either. (We will be like the Bible.) We will equip a generation of Christ followers who knows what the Bible says about sexuality and human flourishing.
- We will be mindful of the log in our own marriage eye before pouncing on the speck in the culture's marriage eye. Such mindfulness doesn't mean that we don't herald God's design for human flourishing, but it does mean that we herald it as broken vessels, not self-righteous judges.
- We won't promise an easy fix to sexual struggle of any kind, but will call all people to follow Christ fully and trust him to endure the challenges that come their way in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. We will seek to model this type of discipleship (see #9 again). We will seek to provide loving community.
- We won't be naive: faithfulness may demand a cost from us. But we won't be looking to prove a point either. If we bear a cost it will come from lovingly following Jesus and being faithful to His Word.
- We will fail at 1 through 12 above, but we will repent.
So, that is the plan at EPC and there is no need to change it. In the days ahead may God bless us with joy, faith and fruit. We don't know what the future holds. But we do the One who holds the future. And He says to you today, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb 13:5).