June 26, 2016

Churches & Same Sex Marriage

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.

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11 Responses to Churches & Same Sex Marriage

  1. Pudentiana says:

    Classic Tooley, clear-headed and well expressed. Thank you

  2. Skipper says:

    They put forth the most illogical of arguments – that if you want to sin and rebel against God, go ahead, it will not matter. This recalls Ezekiel being shown the Elders of Israel in their secret room saying “The Lord does not see us…” Ezekiel 8:12. Have they forgotten that the Elders / Idolaters were then destroyed?

    At what point do we stop calling these rebelling groups “churches” and begin calling them something else? They have made the Supreme Court and Administration of the United States feel comfortable in redefining marriage and taking away precious religious freedom. They too say “The Lord does not see us!” But the Lord sees all, even what’s in your heart.

    • Roy Steele says:

      What illogical argument are you referring to? As a Christian, I’m well aware of the ramifications associated with sin. “They” made government institutions comfortable? Marriage has been redefined so many times over the course of human history, and the institution of marriage has not changed. How has marriage equality infringed on your religious liberty?

      • Skipper says:

        The United Methodist Church continues to believe that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
        When it comes to Religious Liberty, no one should be able to force you to do a same-sex cake for instance. They could buy an extra person. They should not be able to force you to stick it on. That’s is forcing you to do something bad. There is no right to do evil.
        Rev. John Stott wrote several good books, including “Christian Basics” and “The Birds As Our Teachers.” His hobby was bird photography. John Stott said “We need to be in harmony with God’s Plan of Created Order: There can be no ‘liberation’ from God’s norms; True liberation is found only in accepting them.”
        God already knows what is best for us. I am sorry that His Plan of Created Order is so hard for you to accept and I wish you the best in finding the True Liberation that comes with accepting it.

        • Roy Steele says:

          With all due respect, you hit the nail on the head when you characterized UMC’s position that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

          Christians are being taught to hate and reject homosexuals. That isn’t based on the teachings of Christ, in fact it reflects the opposite. I agree that he knows what’s best for us and it’s not the vitriolic hate that’s passed off as religious teaching and religious freedom. This isn’t about cake it’s about treating human beings with the love and respect they deserve.

          In 2016 it’s impossible to live strictly by the tenets of the Bible. I’d say that Scripture provides us with the best ‘guide’ to finding and being our best authentic selves. Both Christ and Scripture embody love and acceptance above all else. I’ve accepted Christ and his love and wisdom guides me. It’s too bad that we can’t say the same for you or Mark Tooley.

  3. Skipper says:

    Encouraging those with sexual confusion, like these groups do, is a terrible thing. It denies people the opportunity to be healed through the power of God.

    • Roy Steele says:

      What exactly do these churches or “these groups” do to encourage those with sexual confusion? Encourage what? And what do they need to be healed from?

      • Skipper says:

        I think you already know. We must all choose who we will serve in this life. I hope everyone will choose well.

        • Roy Steele says:

          I asked a sincere question because I don’t know. I didn’t want to assume that you were suggesting that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people need ‘healing.’ Our creator brings LGBT people into the world, which is why he ignores any call to heal. Assuming the opposite is dangerous considering that Christ never uttered a single bad word about the people he consorted with.

  4. Roy Steele says:

    I agree with your assertion that not much has changed and a great deal has changed. You specifically mention the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and United Methodism (UMC). UMC welcomes LGBT people as members and waves the rainbow flag. They are committed to fighting homophobia and anti-gay discrimination, and a debate is raging within the church about gay marriage right now. The RCC and SBC are hostile to LGBT people.

    You claim that mainline Protestant churches in cities around the country that wave rainbow flags are largely bereft of young people. From what I’ve observed it isn’t as black and white as you suggest. You’re offering a suspect opinion based on anecdotal evidence and stating it as a fact which doesn’t pass muster. You failed to mention that the biggest trend in American religion is the decline of self-identified Christians and rise of the “nones.”

    Public opinion polls show that a vast majority of Americans support marriage equality, and the percentage keeps steadily increasing. NO ONE in the marriage equality movement thought that religion would fold and accept the new reality. Your ‘intelligence report’ is based on misinformation and hearsay.

    You charge that Christians supporting gay marriage, or those who moved away from the church spiritually, hold views that are ‘dangerous’ and antithetical to traditional Christian social teaching. Within the context of your assessment, you are playing judge and jury. What’s ‘traditional Christian social teaching’ anyway? That slavery and bondage is perfectly acceptable? That women are a piece of property meant to just carry a man’s seed? Or will we stone to death a child who told his parents that he hated them today?

    Gay marriage is NOT mentioned once in Scripture. Your claim that ‘natural marriage’ is the only valid union benefiting society is complete and utter nonsense, and not supported by facts or Scripture. Just imagine for one moment that you might be wrong. We all sin and we’re all infallible. What if you are wrong?

    You wrote that the “Christian understanding of marriage as lifelong voluntary union of equal male and female” is a “gift to all cultures.” That’s only applicable to the UMC. The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t view the union of a man and woman as a union of equals, and they continue relegate women to lesser roles, and have a patriarchal hierarchy to preserve the status quo. The Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t view women as equal to men either. They hold that a wife should “submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.” Doesn’t sound equal to me.

    You make another specious claim that “natural marriage is not just for religious communities but is for the good of all human society.” As a Christian it’s important for you to be honest. You know that we live in a secular society that rejected your thesis. Today in 2016, twenty percent of the world’s population currently has access to marriage equality (approximately 1.6 billion people), and the number is rising.

    Yesterday President Bush said “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples – while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” That’s something to ponder now isn’t it..


    Roy Steele

  5. James says:

    Genuine Christians do not oppose marriage equality, because genuine Christians believe in treating fellow human beings fairly. Opposition to marriage equality violates the foundational principle for Christian ethics – the Golden Rule. Let go of fear and ignorance and choose to love your neighbor as yourself, including your neighbor whom God created gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex.

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