By Joe Dallas
Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, and essentially nullifying California Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage, mark a new era in America’s approach to homosexuality and the church’s response as well. Since the right of same-sex couples to marry has been all but ratified by the court, and since public opinion has solidly shifted toward acceptance of homosexual marriage, individual believers, church bodies, and parachurch ministries face a complex set of questions and challenges.
Specifically, Christians will face invitations to same-sex wedding ceremonies and interactions with households headed by homosexual couples at all social levels, along with charges of prejudice, ignorance, or worse if they continue to uphold traditional definitions of sex and family. Churches and their denominational governors will face facility requests for same-sex unions, participation by gay and lesbian couples in activities reserved for married couples, participation in Sunday School classes and youth groups by children of same-sex households, and direct challenges from activists seeking to persuade churches to embrace a “gay-affirming” approach to ministry. Parachurch organizations will face mounting pressures to adhere to secular antidiscrimination laws in their hiring practices and corporate activities, and a plethora of lawsuits, hearings regarding tax-exempt status, and statutory restrictions on speech and expression. The overriding question becomes: How we are to respond to social pressure, cultural stigmatization, and legal sanctions if we continue to uphold the biblical definition of marriage, the family, and normal/God-ordained sexual expressions? It is still entirely possible to fulfill biblical mandates to make disciples and convey the full counsel of God on sexual matters, provided we are willing to maintain watchfulness, revisit traditional approaches to ministry, and remain flexible when flexibility will not jeopardize conscience or biblical standards.
Maybe we’ve had it too easy. Historically in America, the Christian voice was not only heard but also affirmed. Values preached from the pulpit on Sunday were echoed at school, home, the workplace, and even, to a large extent, through the entertainment industry. Surely the culture was never the church, but on questions of moral versus immoral, or natural versus unnatural, the same mores prevailed in virtually all sectors. So whether or not our theology was accepted (often yes, sometimes no), the relational guidelines springing from that theology were seldom challenged, making biblical standards regarding family and sexuality the commonly held standards of the community as well.
So though we’ve been accustomed to at times having to articulate, then defend against criticism, the basic doctrines of the faith—Christ’s divinity, biblical inspiration and accuracy, evidence confirming the resurrection—the sexual values associated with Christianity haven’t been the realm of apologists. We simply haven’t been on the defense in that arena or, if we have, the opposition from culture to church has been minimal.
No more. With astonishing speed, our nation has shifted its sexual standards, and in no area is the shift more significant than that of homosexuality. It’s largely, if not entirely, been encoded as a norm, and same-sex marriage can’t be far behind. Christians holding to the traditional view of human sexuality are now yelling stop when no one seems inclined to do so and, indeed, when hostility toward the yeller is escalating. Even a casual look at our landscape raises not the question of how we can halt same-sex marriage, but rather, how we can best function as ambassadors for Christ in a society that has overwhelmingly accepted it, thereby rejecting His definition of the most basic human institution (see Matt. 19:4–6). America has essentially though not completely gone pro-gay; same-sex marriage is fast becoming the law of the land. So what are the ramifications for modern believers, and where do we go from here?
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