I was on a plane coming back home from Boston when I saw the news that the Supreme Court struck down marriage laws in over half of the states and legalized gay marriage throughout the country. I didn’t even blink: I expected something like a 5-4 decision in favor of gay marriage because of the makeup of the court.
Social media has exploded over the past few days, and most of the media has celebrated the decision. Even as I write this blog, WordPress has a rainbow streaking across the toolbar, and I doubt they are referencing the story of Noah’s Ark. As expected, dissent from this celebration will get people labeled as bigots and homophobes. This cultural environment that seeks to silence Christians or other religious people (or even secular social conservatives) with name-calling and bullying is a difficult one to operate in, but it is nonetheless the one that we are in and the one we need to engage. How can Christians stand for the truth when even the president hints that religious people who disagree with the ruling need to change their beliefs?
I will first summarize my own personal opinion about the Supreme Court decision before moving on to address how Christians should approach this issue. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for Christians to know how to articulate their stance on gay marriage biblically and politically. Furthermore, Christians, as we always should, must ultimately present an accurate Gospel, a clear message that does not make being gay or straight the main issue but states that Christ’s answer to sin was, is, and always will be the center of our faith.
By the way, this will be long, but I think a topic like this justifies the length. If the reader cares more about how I think Christians should approach the issue rather than my analysis of the case, feel free to skip down to that section.
Process-oriented vs. Results-oriented: Judicial overreach and the threat against religious liberty
Many people, both Christians and non-Christians, may be surprised by what I say next: My primary problem, at least on a social level, with the Supreme Court’s decision is not the result. I disagree with gay relationships as a Christian, but politically, the result of gay marriage does not bother me nearly as much as the process by which it was instituted.
Wise people emphasize good process over simply gaining results that they desire. If you emphasize the former, you get the latter more reliably (and more ethically), while if you merely emphasize the latter, you may get it with some good luck but you are more prone to swings in the opposite direction and unintended consequences. A great example of this is an upstanding defense attorney who forces the prosecution to do their job well even against a person who seems most likely guilty. Making sure that the prosecution meets a high standard does mean that some guilty people go free, but allowing shortcuts means that innocent people can be convicted on garbage cases. In other words, this is good process, while a results-oriented philosophy would put too much power on the whims of prosecutors in order to get a result that they like.
The Supreme Court’s decision today was bad process to get a result that they and progressives wanted. I read the entirety of the Supreme Court’s decision, both the majority opinion as well as the dissenters’, and I recommend the reader to do the same. As I read through the majority opinion, I was struck by the blatant assumptions, casual dismissals, bad analogies, and frankly overt sentimentality that were used to justify an extraordinarily novel reading of the Constitution, as opposed to a precise, impartial, restrained, and unemotional judgment that we would expect from those entrusted to sit on the highest court in the land. Judicial activism like this has no doubt brought about good results in the past, but that does not justify the means of getting there.
Going through each argument would make a gigantic post on its own, so I will try to be as brief as possible and zero in on the majority’s central arguments. Because the Constitution clearly does not have plain language that supports anything like same-sex marriage, the majority primarily invoked the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment and the idea of “substantive” due process, a legal doctrine that some rights are so fundamental to the history and conscience of the nation that they cannot be taken away without strong reason. This is different than even the rights that are expressly guaranteed by the the Bill of Rights because those rights are explicit in the language. Many legal experts such as Justice Thomas think substantive due process is a load of baloney (as he makes clear in his dissent, and one wonders if it’s a good idea to make such a sweeping decision based on a disputed legal viewpoint), but even if one were to accept such a doctrine, it is clearly one that judges must use with extreme caution because it is a dubious thing to let judges start deciding what rights are “fundamental” and which aren’t. However, the majority threw caution to the winds and announced that gay marriage was a fundamental right that fell under the Due Process Clause, with a few incoherent nods at the Equal Protection Clause, despite virtually no direct support from precedent.
How on earth did they get there? They had to do one important thing: Redefine marriage for everybody and end political debate on it. To be fair to the majority, I may readily agree with them that marriage is a “fundamental” right. I also agree that the institution of marriage has undergone significant change over the course of history. However, what cannot be disputed is that marriage has always fundamentally been understood as a union between a man and a woman. If this is simply what marriage is, then even if marriage is understood as a fundamental right, it is not one that is being illegitimately deprived from gay people. The fact that they do not wish to exercise this right and enter into a union with a member of the opposite sex is beside the point. This presented a bit of a problem for the majority, and they sought to get around it in two basic ways: Appeal to past cases where restrictions on marriages were struck down, such as bans against interracial marriage, and appeal to the “new insights” of expert and popular opinion that homosexuality is normal, immutable, and part of who someone is, such that disallowing gay marriage is an affront to their dignity.
Regarding the analogies to interracial marriage, they fail because, as Justice Roberts points out, the fundamental understanding of marriage was not challenged in those cases. The common, historical understanding of marriage holds without a problem even if it involves a man and woman of different ethnic backgrounds, and because such people were restricted from marriage so understood, it was deemed to be illegitimate. The definition of marriage as “a union of a man and woman of the same race” has never been a historical definition, even in cultures where interracial marriages were forbidden or discouraged. This argument falls flat.
Additionally, the contention that homosexuality is normal and immutable (as race is) is relatively new, heavily disputed, and ultimately irrelevant. It is astonishing how quickly the majority concludes that the entirety of human history was wrong based on a handful of years of changed popular and expert opinion. They gloss over the fact that many citizens, including other experts, do not agree that homosexuality is normal and that sexual desires are immutable. They do not present robust arguments about the biological, psychological, and philosophical issues involved… and if they did, it would quickly become apparent that this is not what we want our Supreme Court justices to be doing when they are deciding cases because they’re just lawyers. Most importantly, this is irrelevant because even if it were granted that same-sex orientation is both normal and immutable, it would not follow that the definition of marriage should be drastically changed by judges. Not only are gay relationships clearly not a part of some immutable nature (unless, as I have argued before, one assumes a dubious hard determinism, and where is the philosophical case for that?), even if orientation is granted to be so, this still would not permit judges to redefine things for the people to aim for their own new understanding of liberty. Doing this is the opposite of judicial humility and wisdom.
What was notably bizarre about the majority opinion was how sentimental it was about gay marriage while being unnecessarily disparaging to those who disagree with it. Much talk was given about the dignity, hurt feelings, and sincere desires of gay people who respect marriage. I do not doubt these things, but what on earth does this have to do with constitutional law? There is no dignity clause in the Constitution or the right to be protected from hurt feelings, and personal sentiment should not guide a judge’s decision. Even if the judges sincerely believe that gay people are being treated unfairly, that gives them no right to redefine marriage so that they enact social change that they think is good. The fact that they go ahead and imply that people who disagree with gay marriage do all sorts of horrible harm to gay people does nothing but smear the religious people they claim to respect.
Judges should strive, as much as humanly possible, to lay aside personal beliefs and interpret law as it is written, using precedent, history, and tradition to guide their judgment to protect against personal bias and the tendency to view one’s own era as greater than years past. This is not to say that precedent and history are always right, nor is it to say that can we expect judges to be robots; however, these things provide important injections of humility when judges consider cases. Inferences that are made when the law is not explicit must be done with caution and logical precision. These practices are crucial for our government because federal judges are remote from the people and are not representatives; if they are not restrained by these things, then a simple majority of Ivy League lawyers, all of five people, can basically act as legislatures that the people did not elect. This is bad for everyone in the long run and robs the people of the United States of their treasured principle of self-government. None but the tiniest minority of gay marriage advocates have reflected on the dubiousness of letting five people decide such a matter for an entire country based on their purported new insights and greater understanding.
Many progressives, however, just don’t care because they got what they wanted, and it shows how blatantly they disregard good process in favor of expedient goals. Unfortunately, such careless methodology very much threatens religious liberty, as the dissenting justices understood, because now a group of five lawyers has pronounced, both in this case in the case of DOMA, that disagreeing with gay marriage is simply motivated by animus towards gay people (“sincere” animus, perhaps… but still animus). They said that religious people are free to teach their religious doctrines, but that’s not what the 1st Amendment says; the 1st amendment protects the free exercise of religion. With such pronouncements, what will happen when religious practice conflicts with decision delivered by this Court? It is bad enough already that social media gets into mob-mode when people hear something they disagree with, but now, they have the backing of the Supreme Court of the United States. This very well can affect people’s jobs, reputation, and freedom to express their faith even in their businesses and schools, which is a ludicrous development because the free exercise of religion has the benefit of being absolutely explicit in the text, quite unlike this invented “fundamental” right of gay marriage.
I am actually still open to being convinced that we should pass laws that grant marriage or some sort of legal union to gay couples, even if I personally disagree with it. After all, there are many things that I believe are sinful as a Christian and therefore bad for society, like drunkenness, but that does not mean that I want a large level of government regulation over them. Every society must decide how much morality is wise to try to regulate, as this country learned the hard way with prohibition. If the people were allowed to decide on this matter and if they wanted to redefine marriage, such as in Ireland and some states, then I still would not like the result but I would be much more okay with it. This process would allow debate both before and after the law is passed. Careful provisions could be built into the laws as compromise that expressly protected religious liberty. I actually do not think that gay marriage, in and of itself, necessarily threatens religious liberty. If gay marriage or some similar legal union was granted to gay couples and religious people were also not forced to participate in celebrating it (so churches and mosques or their owned lands do not have to host such ceremonies and religious businesses can decline their involvement), then that is still an environment where religious liberty is not significantly hampered. However, short-circuiting the legislative process like this with such arrogant pronouncements immediately puts religious people in the crosshairs with very little legal recourse. Canada is a test-case of what can happen to religious liberty.
It seems that this Court did not learn the lessons of Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade is unabashedly celebrated by popular liberal culture because of its sweeping legitimization of abortion, but even legal experts who are abortion advocates have criticized the decision as being fraught with poor logic, inventing a new constitutional right to abortion without any justification. Even the famously feminist and liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has criticized the decision, though she thinks the Court would have been better served to utilize the Equal Protection Clause. I disagree with her there, but at least she understood that by doing so, the Supreme Court cut off the democratic process and created bitter division in this country. It is unfortunate that she did not apply this wisdom to this case.
The Constitution is one of the greatest man-made, governing documents ever written. It deserves much better than the treatment it received in this case. The fact that so many Americans are gleefully celebrating this decision with thunderous applause is both sad and ironic.
Articulation and Clarity: Skills Christians need
Now that I just spent 2,000 words on the case itself (believe me, it could be way longer), let’s get to how Christians can continue to reach people in this environment. Frankly, in this regard, very little has changed: The Gospel should still be in the forefront, and Christians should be clear. I will first discuss the biblical view on gay marriage before moving on to how Christians should be clear in politics and the Gospel.
Gay Marriage and the Church
This is going to be a short section because it should be obvious: The Bible does not condone same-sex relationships, much less same-sex marriage. The arguments that try to re-interpret clear passages in Scripture are demonstrably poor, so poor that even Christians who want to support same-sex relationships like Luke Timothy Johnson know that the biblical case is empty. I’ve written on this many times and there is no need to discuss these specific passages further. It is embarrassing that so many Christians have such poor Bible knowledge or poor respect for its authority.
I will, however, say this: It is important for Christians to articulate a holistic biblical case for the traditional view of marriage. Many advocates of gay marriage complain that the six passages on homosexuality are used as “clobber” passages, basically used to beat homosexuals into submission. This is untrue, but it is helpful to show that throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, it is the obvious presupposition of Scripture that sexual union should only occur between husband and wife. The whole biblical account of sex rests on Gen. 2:24 and goes from there.
Christians in politics
I need to say this loud and clear to Christians: If you are trying to convince non-believers that gay marriage should not be granted in society, it is not terribly helpful to throw Bible verses at them. They do not accept the Bible’s authority, and such a discussion will go nowhere. For Christians who believe that marriage should not be redefined even by the legislative process, they need to be able to articulate these things:
1. There are good social reasons for the preservation of the traditional definition of marriage.
2. Departing from this definition is dangerous, and there is good evidence that gay relationships are not good for people and for children raised in such households.
3. These reasons make it worth it for the government to preserve the traditional view.
The reason that such Christians need to articulate these things is that Christians cannot simply say that because something is good or bad, the government should get involved. There are many things, as I hinted before, that Christians will find sinful and bad for society, but that does not mean that we want laws on them. Even many secular people will agree that pornography is bad for society, but I don’t see a big Christian push to completely restrict it. Also, we think rejecting Jesus as Savior and being a Buddhist is sinful and ultimately bad for society, but not only do we not want laws against meditation and Buddha idols, we should actively defend Buddhists’ religious liberty. There are good social arguments to be made for the traditional view of marriage that even secular conservatives have used. It is high time that Christians learned them with nuance and understanding.
This also goes for Christians who actually do believe that marriage should be redefined in the larger society (or are at least indifferent to it). Articulate why you think the government should not restrict marriage in this way even though, as a Christian, you understand that God does not approve of gay relationships. And all Christians need to be at the forefront in defending religious liberty. One of the more embarrassing moments for conservative Christians is when some of them supported the use of the government to prevent the building of a Muslim community building near the site of 9/11. This was a mistake; we don’t have to like what other religious people believe and do, but as long as it is not violent, we should defend their right to exercise their faith. Right now, we need to learn the history of religious liberty, the true meaning of separation of church and state (not the pop culture understanding of it), and sharp arguments to defend this right against encroachment from overeager secular liberals.
Lastly, the Bible does command that we submit to government as much as possible without jeopardizing Christian principles. If the government demands that we marry gay people in church or risk losing our tax-exempt status, well, it’s time for churches to pay taxes.
The Gospel: Ultimately, Jesus is the answer
The most important thing we can do has not changed: We can share Jesus with the lost. We need to be able to articulate the Gospel and the promise of salvation for all who believe and follow after him. We have to show much greater care than some Christians in the past who have, explicitly or implicitly, told gay people that they need to stop being gay before Jesus will save and love them, a theology that erroneously inverts sanctification and justification. We also need to be self-reflective of the fact that so many gay people find church to be the most unwelcome place for them. For some, they would become angry even at a sincere and accurate representation of the Gospel, but I think the church needs to own the fact that we contributed to the mess with bad practice and bad theology. Basically, many Christians forgot the Gospel when dealing with homosexuals.
This does not mean that we run from the fact that the Bible does not condone gay relationships. However, that is not the point of our message. The point of our message is not to turn gay people straight but to introduce sinners to the only one who can save them. Will the Holy Spirit convict and start leading Christians with same-sex attraction away from such relationships? Yes, as he does for all Christians with their sins. This, however, is a consequence of salvation, not a requirement. Learn theology, read the Bible, and learn how to share these things with some level of clarity. It is imperative that we do not allow our message of salvation to be confused with a message of hate because of our own ambiguity or carelessness. Some people will still hear it that way, but we should not be part of the problem.
Remember, while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). Christ died for all these people who are now attacking us as well, and Jesus instructs us to love our enemies just like God loves his enemies enough to send his Son to die for them. We should never forget this as we battle for religious liberty and as we engage in political discourse over gay marriage. Gay marriage is not the end-all, be-all of Christian issues. It has become a big issue in our time, but it should ultimately serve to point us back to the cross and the resurrection, and it should remind us that the grace of God that we have received should be shared openly, accurately, and lovingly to a fallen world. Marriage isn’t the answer. The Constitution isn’t the answer. Christ Jesus is.