by Aaron Tsang, TFF Summer InternThe College of William & Mary
The recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage has caused quite a stir in our country, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the church. Reactions have ranged anywhere from exhilarated pandemonium to visceral disapproval. Many in the church have decided to support, or at least recognize same sex marriage. However, there are still many who still assert the biblical view of marriage, one man and one woman. Unfortunately, despite many assurances to the contrary, there is mounting evidence that churches will no longer be able to practice their belief that marriage is a divine covenant between one man and one woman for life without legal ramifications such as the annulment of their tax exempt status.
Many in the church have focused on the detrimental effects this ruling will have on the church, but are we missing something? Jesus provided a response to such circumstances when brought into the presence Pilate, the Roman governor, preceding his crucifixion. Attempting to elicit an answer from Jesus, Pilate said, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” to which Jesus replied, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11) NIV. Once again Jesus gets to the heart of the issue. Although we are subject to the governing body, our mandate to follow God is paramount to any other authority if you believe Jesus when we explained that power is given to our authorities from above. It doesn’t end at that though; Jesus’ bold counter to Pilate’s arrogance has another implication for us. Believing that the authority of the government comes from God, we begin to understand that the SCOTUS ruling doesn’t surprise or shock God in any way. This begs the question; does God plan to use the SCOTUS ruling to achieve positive change within the church? Here are a few ways the Supreme Court’s decision has the potential to positively affect the church.
- The church will have to be different from the world. The church used to be a big influence on the culture, but nowadays it seems that culture is what’s influencing the church. We’ve gotten to a point in our society where being part of the church is in fact, convenient. We aren’t required to be any different from anyone else in the world if we don’t want to. The Supreme Court ruling changes things. All of a sudden, being a Christian will require us to possess enough of an understand of the worth of what we are putting our faith in that we are willing to be labeled as different and undergo ostracism by the newly formed majority. When addressing the church, Peter refers to them as, “A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9) NIV. The Bible makes it clear that the church, when living like it was intended to, will have distinct differences from the world. The Supreme Court’s ruling may help the church to do just that.
- The church will gain a renewed spirit of giving. As churches and other organizations that uphold a biblical definition of marriage lose their tax-exempt status, it will challenge the church to give generously, without thinking about what they get out of it. A study has shown that only 10-25% of the church tithes, a rather dismal statistic when considering that God actually commands us to tithe Leviticus 27:30). In order for the church to survive, a greater percentage of the church will have to learn to trust God with their money.
- The church will have to become known for what they’re for, not what they’re against. Often times it would seem that people go only to churches that “speak up against what’s wrong.” However, as the rights and privileges of churches in America get stripped away, it will cease to be one of the driving engines of the church. There is only so much someone is willing to sacrifice in order to oppose something. In contrast, when someone finds something of great value, that person would be willing to give up everything to protect it. Thus it holds for the church; as it becomes harder and harder to live biblically as a Christian, the price will rise too high for the church simply to stand against sin. However, if the church begins to stand FOR Christ, it will offer something so precious that nothing will be able to keep people from desiring it. In addition, it will also find itself standing against sins.
- The church will have to relearn what the Biblical definition of marriage really is. Possibly the most prominent way that the church has shot itself in the foot while attempting to stand for biblical marriage has been church not actually standing for biblical marriage. In Malachi 2:16, God says, “The man who hates and divorces his wife, does violence to the one he should protect. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.” Although there is a fairly significant difference between the church and the world on this issue (one study finds that Protestant Christians are 35% less likely to get a divorce), there has still been much complacency on the matter. With the Supreme Court actually redefining marriage, marriage by the state is on the road to becoming a ceremonial process that simply incorporates some economic or political advantages. As marriage takes a less meaningful role in society, it presents an opportunity to be made increasingly meaningful within the church. When it no longer has weight as a social institution, it stands to regain what it truly is: a biblical covenant between a man and a woman that is not thrown off on a whim.
Whatever the argument, from a biblical perspective the Supreme Court’s ruling will indubitably impact our nation in a negative way. The ruling is both unjust in that it attempts to change God’s design for marriage, but unloving, as it also affirms a lie that will leave empty those who buy into it. As the church, we must abstain from hatred which is at the very least hypocritical. In its place, we should grieve that people around us that we love have bought into lie that will not fulfill them in the way they were designed to be filled. Meanwhile, the church must continue to hold out the gospel, in which doing so also requires that we stand for the truth. And as we the church increasingly comes under attack for our beliefs, we must take to heart the words of the apostle John: “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers” 1 John 3:13-14 NIV. My hope for us the church rests in our realization that God was not taken aback by these events. He foresaw our current events and those to come and His plan is not a contingency plan, but His original plan still in play; a plan which involves the sanctifying the church, setting it apart so that it illumines the ever-darkening world.