Published July 11, 2013
Question: What does the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage mean for the Church?
Answer: Christians believe marriage is defined by God and recognized by government. But many today believe marriage is defined by government and must be recognized by all.
For this reason, I’m not optimistic about the trends concerning marriage and family in the United States after the Supreme Court’s gay marriage rulings on June 26. Neither am I sure of what all this means for those who, in good conscience, stand against the tide.
But I am optimistic about the church of Jesus Christ. We’ve been through societal transformations before. If we truly believe Romans 8:28 that somehow, in some way, God is working all things for the good of those who love Him, then even when the culture swerves in an opposing direction, we ought to expect both benefits and challenges.
The loss of a culture of marriage
A friend who lives in D.C. told me that whenever he sees a young father and mother pushing a stroller with a couple of kids, he immediately thinks they must be Christians. Why? “There just aren’t a lot of intact families in our area. When you see one, you just assume they’re religious.”
The picture of a man and woman who wait until their wedding night to consummate their relationship and remain committed for many years as they grow in their love for each other, raise their kids, and enjoy their grandkids simply isn’t the norm anymore. In the future it’s likely that churches will be one of the few places you’ll find people married more than 60 years.
When you look at other countries that legalized same-sex marriage decades ago, you notice a dramatic reduction in the number of people getting married. In all likelihood, we (Christians) will soon resemble our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world: We will stand out for being the very thing our grandparents would have thought ordinary.
The absence of a marriage culture will make biblical marriage stand out all the more.
Threats to religious liberty
As the norm of marriage shifts, individual Christians will find themselves in situations where they face penalties for refusing to violate their conscience. We’ve already seen this take place when Christian caterers, for example, feel conflicted about taking part in a same-sex wedding. Threats to religious liberty are not good news for the church because they cause us to spend time and energy in preserving “space” for us to live according to our religious convictions without fear of reprisal.
The good news: These threats may bring about in the church a much-needed change of mindset. It’s time we recognized we are no longer the “moral majority” and embrace our identity as the “missional minority.”
The cost of conviction
In churches and denominations, we will soon see who is truly tethered to the authority of God’s Word and who is conforming to the pattern of this world. Churches that embrace the new definition of marriage will show themselves to be in step with contemporary society and radically out of step with the Christian church for 2,000 years.
Being a convictional Christian, especially in matters related to sexuality, morality, and marriage, likely will mean the loss of cultural clout and respectability. We will pay a personal and social cost for our beliefs.
The good news: Sociologist Rodney Stark has shown that one of the most powerful engines of early church growth was the fact that membership cost something. Why? For one, paying a social cost tends to screen out those who would fain religiosity in order to receive respect from society.
The evangelical witness may be leaner in numbers in coming years, but the upside is that the witness may be even more potent. The Gospel of God’s love in Christ is no less powerful in 21st-century America than in first-century Rome.
Trevin Wax is an editor at LifeWay Christian Resources who blogs at theGospelCoalition.org. This column was edited for space.
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