The following article was written for Evangelicals Now and published in their news publication for November 2014.
At time of writing the U.S. Supreme Court has just decided to not decide on gay marriage. As anticlimactic as a non-decision decision is, this was nonetheless of great significance. Effectively, the Supreme Court has legitimated the decisions of States to allow gay marriage by refusing to intervene (one way or another). Commentators have wondered whether this was motivated so as not to be tarnished with a Roe v. Wade like stigma which the Court has carried ever since its decision on abortion, at least in the eyes of the conservatives in the country.
But whatever the motivations of the Court may or may not be, the result is the same. Gradual, increased, gay marriage. In this case what then should Christians do?
The answer is far from obvious. On the one hand, some urge belligerent resistance. It is not uncommon to come across people asking for a kind of ‘man the barricades’ response to this decimation of Western Civilization and the full on attack on Christian liberties that are seen by many to be the logical next steps. If you cannot support homosexual marriage then you may, as a business, as a Christian, be forced to do so at some point – for the rationale of the gay lobby all along has been this is a civil rights matter, and if that is the case then it is bigotry to not support gay marriage, in the same way it is bigotry to not support interracial marriage, or mixed and not segregated classrooms. The day may come when evangelicals will need to launch their own civil rights movement.
Then, there are those who are eagerly looking for what they call a ‘third way’. One suspects that much of the desire for this third way from those who are proposing it is a liberalizing agenda more generally. One wonders whether even among the evangelicals (or those who still claim the mantle of evangelical) who advocate for a third way, there is a far lower view of Scripture than the readers of EN would be comfortable with. That said, the pull of this third way – to not speak against the political action of a state for gay marriage, while privately being against gay marriage as a Christian and as a church – has a certain natural appeal, and beyond the nefarious appeal of cowardice. Are we really to ask non-Christians to behave like Christians in this regard, but not in other regards? What do we expect of a secular nation, to legislate in favor of Christian morality?
That said, I think the best approach is that advocated by Jesus when he called upon his early followers to be ‘salt and light’. Interpretations of the original intention of that famous text in Mathew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount vary, but for our purposes let us take it as idiomatic of a two-pronged strategy in this regard. There is the evangelistic strategy. We do not want to speak about gay marriage, homosexuality, those people who have same-sex attraction outside (as well as inside) the church, in such a way that they are far less likely to receive Christ. We need to be ‘light’, missional, engaged, conversational, presenting the Cross as the only stumbling block. Calling people to him, and then letting him address their sin, so that after their encounter with Christ they are empowered to ‘go and sin no more.’
On the other hand, we also need to be ‘salt’. Prophetic, advocating that ‘righteousness exalts a nation, and sin is a reproach to any people’, Amos-like in our call to not just the church but the nations to repentance, standing up for truth, righteousness and justice, in this area as well as in the areas of sexual slavery, poverty, and other clear and present injustices.
Of course the balance between the two is tricky. Some may emphasize one more than the other, some may have specialized ministries in one area more than the other, some may have a disposition to one area more than the other, but overall, at this time, the church’s witness is to be both ‘salt’ and ‘light’ and not solely one or t’other.