Here are video and text of Mark Tooley speaking on June 24 Family Research Council panel about 2015 Supreme Court same sex marriage ruling’s impact on American churches:
How has same sex marriage changed or affected America’s churches? Not much AND a great deal.
Almost all of official Christianity continues to disapprove same sex marriage and affirm sex only within male female marriage. No major church body has changed their stance since the 2015 court ruling and none are likely. Several declining oldline denominations had already abandoned traditional Christian teaching before the ruling. They are the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, plus the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. They collectively represent perhaps 5% or less of USA church members and are fast declining. Their example is instructive to others who might be tempted.
There is to my knowledge no Christian denomination in world that has abandoned marriage teaching that was not already declining and did not suffer further and usually accelerating decline afterwards. In the USA, the three largest religious bodies affirm only traditional marriage: Roman Catholicism, Southern Baptist Convention, and United Methodism. The latter of course surprises many because it is the largest historically liberal oldline Protestant denomination. But its membership is global, and its growing and soon to be majority overseas African membership has kept it orthodox, to the exasperation of USA liberals. The UMC even has an official stance affirming laws in civil society defining marriage as union of man and woman.
America’s largest religious demographic is evangelicals. There is a growing evangelical left that’s embarrassed by Christianity’s and specifically Evangelicalism’s counter cultural teachings especially on sex. In the Evangelical Left mythology, Christianity without serious sexual restrictions would be more inclusive, more welcoming and therefore more evangelistically successful. These voices are typically uninformed about or just ignore the oldline Protestant example even as they advocate evangelicalism become more like the fading Episcopal church.
A growing number of events targeting young evangelical elites try to ignore or minimize traditional Christian teaching about marriage. A recent social justice convo hosted by a major evangelical relief group unusually included a Southern Baptist leader who briefly defended traditional teaching. There was a negative reaction by many in the room and by many in social media who thought even this brief reference offensive. They forgot or preferred to ignore that the official host group has an official teaching defining marriage as only union of male and female.
Some otherwise orthodox and sensible orthodox older evangelical leaders believe their social relevance and evangelistic success requires downplaying Christian marriage teaching. They maybe underestimate their audience and their message. Washington, D.C., like many other USA urban areas with increasing numbers of young professionals has experienced an unprecedented church planting boom in recent years. Dozens of new congregations, almost all of them evangelical with official stances for traditional marriage, are comprised largely of twentysomethings, many of whom, and in some cases majorities of whom, support or are at least comfortable with same sex marriage. Yet the many, many beautiful oldline Protestant sanctuaries of this city and other cities, proudly waving their rainbow flags, are largely bereft of young people. Why are socially liberal young people in overwhelmingly socially liberal cities drawn to churches that are counter culturally at odds with their own beliefs? Perhaps young people, like most people of any age, expect religion not to be a buddy who pleasingly tells what you want to hear but a more mature parent-like figure who challenges and tells what you need to hear.
Polls are often trumpeted showing that majorities of self identified Catholics and oldline Protestants, plus a large minority of evangelicals favor same sex marriage. Yet closer examination almost always shows that actively church going adherents are much more traditional. Many secularists assumed in their historically determinist way after the court ruling that religion like the rest of society will fold to the new sexual zeitgeist. They should be and will be disappointed as orthodox religion remains mostly outside this supposed consensus.
In some cases the court ruling arguably has strengthened Christian witness by amplifying the difference between secular civil society and the church’s unchanging trans generational universal teaching. The contrast for some is motivating and evangelistically helpful. To become a Christian is now more dramatically to enter into a new kind of society with a very different and more permanent, transcendent authority. In this spirit some have wished good riddance to Christendom and Christian America. Others are comfortable with traditional standards for the church but permissive definitions for civil society.
These assumptions might be dangerous and are at odds with traditional Christian social teaching about reforming wider society as a means of grace and expression of divine love. The Christian understanding of marriage as lifelong voluntary union of equal male and female, mirroring Christ’s union with His church, and rooted in universal natural law, has been a gift to all cultures where more destructive and exploitative alternatives have often prevailed.
However unpopular and politically untenable in our current context, Christians and other traditionalists cannot abandon our understanding that natural marriage is not just for religious communities but is for the good of all human society. This understanding will be especially important in the days ahead in the inevitable debates about polygamy and other innovations that will flow from the court’s ruling.