Gay marriage rulings: 'new ministry situations on horizon,' seminary scholars project
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Though the Supreme Court's ruling against traditional marriage was a "dark day in American history," it's time to accept the reality and move on to discussing how to minister in a new context, Jeff Iorg and other seminary leaders are saying.
"Challenging new ministry situations are on the horizon," Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary near the epicenter of the gay marriage movement, wrote in a blog post June 27.
"For example, a child comes to your Vacation Bible School and receives Jesus as Savior and Lord. His same-sex married parents come for the family night program. How will you react to their presence?" Iorg wrote.
"A person in a gay marriage commits himself to Jesus and requests baptism in your church. How will your church respond to his profession of faith?" Iorg wrote. "One person in a same-sex marriage becomes a Christian and wants to end their marriage. The couple has children. Do you endorse this divorce and risk the custody of the children being awarded to the unbeliever?"
Sharing the Gospel must be the priority amid the cultural shift, Iorg said, and the church must uphold its convictions about moral purity and advocate for biblical marriage. Compromising isn't the solution, he said.
Another ministry challenge, Iorg wrote, will be helping Christians learn to navigate gay marriage as they encounter it in the public square.
"Christians work in companies, hospitals, schools and governmental agencies which must now legally provide services to gay married couples. Churches will be challenged to help their members think theologically about and behave ethically in these situations," Iorg wrote.
Dark days, Iorg said, are opportunities for bright light.
In comments to Baptist Press, Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Supreme Court decision striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act was disappointing, though not surprising.
"We have seen this coming for a long time. As for the future, the church's mission remains the same: We will boldly proclaim the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ, heralding the truth that 'whosoever calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved' and that every person can be delivered from the slavery of sin that seeks to enslave us all," Akin said.
Believers must continue to love and serve those with whom they disagree, Akin said.
"And we will continue to advocate God's revealed plan and pattern for marriage and family, a plan that promotes human flourishing and a pattern that depicts the love that Jesus Christ has for His Bride, the church, which He purchased with His own blood," Akin said.
Also at Southeastern, Daniel Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics, expressed disappointment that the new ministry context was handed down by the judicial branch of the federal government.
"In the land of the free and home of the brave, disagreement over something so fundamental as marriage should be left to the people as instructed by conscience, tradition and faith," Heimbach wrote in comments to Baptist Press.
"But what the Supreme Court majority has done is enshrine into the Constitution a radical redefinition of marriage under which sexual difference makes no difference. This is a tragedy that exalts private desires over the public good and sentiment over God's ordering of creation."
The DOMA decision, Heimbach said, "brands faithful Christians as un-American bigots driven, not by faith or even reason, but by nothing more than 'bare ... desire to harm.'"
"Such aspersion is not only completely false but demonstrates deeply rooted animus toward those who cling to faith in the wisdom and power of God," Heimbach wrote.
Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a blog post that June 26 is a date he will remember as "the day that marriage changed forever in American society."
"What is next for our society? We can be thankful that the Supreme Court did not offer a new definition of marriage today. However, I still believe it is safe to say that we are heading toward the demise of marriage as the foundational institution of society," Lenow wrote.
The term "marriage" is quickly losing its meaning, the professor said, noting that President Obama used his Twitter account to claim all love is equal when it comes to marriage.
"The logical conclusion of such a claim is societal acceptance of not only same-sex 'marriage' but also acceptance of polygamy, polyamory, incest and ultimately pedophilia," Lenow wrote. "We may even live to see the day when the term 'marriage' has no significance whatsoever. If marriage collapses as a social institution, we will see more crime and poverty, and we will see less education and children."
Despite this upheaval, Lenow said God's design for marriage in Genesis 2, one man and one woman for a lifetime, has not changed. Christians, though, can expect a long and difficult road ahead, he said.
"We will likely be marginalized in the cultural discussion of marriage. We will be called bigots and homophobes. We may even experience discrimination for our views," Lenow wrote, pointing to Jesus' warning in John 15:18-19 that the world would hate His followers.
"Our task is to proclaim the Gospel faithfully knowing that true change in society only comes when hearts are changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Lenow wrote.
Denny Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, discussed in a blog post June 27 whether proponents of gay marriage will allow any legal accommodation for the consciences of those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
"What if a Christian university were to decide to limit its married student housing to heterosexual couples? Will there be any accommodation for this under the new regime?" Burk wrote.
"The more I have read, the more I have become concerned that very little accommodation will be forthcoming. Proponents of gay marriage are not interested in protecting the religious liberty of traditional marriage supporters," Burk wrote.
The Supreme Court's majority opinion in the DOMA case makes the problem worse, Burk said, because it renders a moral judgment against traditional marriage supporters.
"Why would anyone want to be magnanimous toward those who seek to 'demean,' to 'impose inequality' and a 'stigma' on gay people, to deny gay people 'equal dignity,' to treat them as 'unworthy,' and to 'humiliate' their children?" Burk wrote.
"That's how the Supreme Court describes traditional marriage supporters. As that opinion moves into the cultural mainstream, it's difficult to imagine why the majority would make accommodations for the consciences of those they regard as bigots."
Christians need to be ready for a new reality, Burk said, including a culture that is increasingly hostile toward them.
"Private citizens may someday face fines and other penalties for their convictions on marriage. Our churches may eventually lose tax-exempt status. Any number of negative outcomes are possible in the approaching conflagration," Burk warned.
"Ours will likely be a costly love and a costly witness. But this is precisely the kind of discipleship that Jesus has called all of us to, and it will be worth it in the end (Matthew 16:25)," Burk wrote.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).