The nation’s movement toward the full legalization of homosexual marriage accelerated this week. Monday’s action—or inaction—by the U.S. Supreme Court had the effect of making the practice legal in up to thirty states. This despite many of those states having passed laws prohibiting it. What once was unimaginable then a rumor in distant places has now come in the front door. The redefinition of marriage by the courts is almost complete.
Since 2003 five states that passed laws banning homosexual marriage (Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin) have seen their laws struck down by federal appeals courts. The five states appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the rulings. On Monday the high court refused to hear the states’ appeals, letting the lower courts’ rulings stand.
The legal wrangling goes further. The five states lie within three federal appeals courts circuits. All other states within those courts’ jurisdictions are also affected. Virginia is in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, as is South Carolina. So the decision setting aside Virginia’s ban also applies to South Carolina. In other words, homosexual marriage is now legal in our state.
Soon after the U.S. Supreme Court’s position was announced, Richland and Charleston counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Then came a further twist. The South Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday issued a stay on the licenses because of a pending federal judge’s ruling in a previous case. That stay will certainly be lifted as soon as advocates can get their case heard, and the homosexual marriage licenses will then be issued.
We now live in a brave new world.
The question for evangelical Christians is as obvious as it is difficult: what do we do now? How do we continue to live and minister according to biblical standards of sexuality and marriage in a culture that has lost its moorings on both? How do we faithfully and graciously share the gospel to a nation that sets us aside as bigots and haters because we won’t bow the knee to the gods of the age? How will we recreate our interface with a government that publically contradicts and even condemns our moral convictions? After centuries of being at the center of American life, how will we handle being pushed to the periphery because of our obedience to God’s Word?
While no one knows the long-term consequences, here are a few thoughts on what comes next:
- As American society continues to embrace homosexuality, churches will face even more pressure to alter their convictions to conform to the new status quo. Many churches and denominations have already done so. Churches that remain faithful to biblical understandings of both sexuality and marriage will find themselves marginalized in their communities. For mainstream churches that have grown accustomed to being at the center of community life, this will be a bitter pill to swallow.
- Churches will have to figure out how to respond to homosexual couples who attend their services. There are certainly homosexual people in evangelical churches today. But as homosexual marriages goes mainstream, how will churches that claim to be open and welcoming while at the same time upholding biblical principles of marriage respond?
- There will be financial implications for churches. While national political leaders will give their usual public assurances of upholding the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, does anyone really believe that will happen? At some point—maybe not next year or the year afterwards but sometime within the next five to ten years—churches that refuse to conduct homosexual weddings will be in danger of losing their tax-exempt status. The financial consequences would be enormous.
- Churches will have to move beyond the petty bickering on the one hand and survival planning on the other that characterizes so many congregations today. We must grasp instead the truth of what we’re dealing with: our nation is abandoning biblical living so quickly that the future of Christianity in America is in doubt.
- Most importantly, churches need to look at our situation with great expectation and hope. The cultural idols our nation is now serving won’t last—idols never do. When any of us follow paths, beliefs and desires that God’s Word plainly says are wrong, life doesn’t work out. It can’t—only Jesus can provide for the deepest needs of the human heart. This is a glorious time for the gospel, and we in the churches must always hold to that truth.