A few years ago the elders at my church asked the pastors to focus on equipping the congregation to deal with persecution. As part of our strategic plan, the elders wanted the members of Immanuel Bible to have a larger understanding of what persecution looks like globally, with an eye toward preparing our church for future persecution here in the United States.
When we started down this road three years ago, I think many people thought our elders were over-reacting. Some simply thought we were reactionary Republicans, upset about an election that did not go our way. I think the Supreme Court decision Friday vindicated their foresight.
You see even in the dissenting opinions that the Justices released warnings to churches. This is no longer a conspiracy theory from political activists, but rather the alarm has sounded from Justices on the US Supreme Court. They are essentially saying: “Christians, your churches are next on the gay right’s movement’s list. The same force they pursued marriage, they are going to pursue your freedoms.”
And of course the next phase of this is that churches will be under pressure to lose their tax exempt status, the colleges we send our students to will lose their accreditation—and thus their access to federally subsidized loans—and our young men will likely see the door closed on them as they aspire to be military chaplains.
In a practical way, nothing changes. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Virginia for over 18 months now, and in DC for much longer. But there will be changes. The two days following the court’s ruling brought major media outlets calling for exactly what was predicted: an end to church’s tax-exempt status, an end to college accreditation for Christian schools, and chaplains have already been pressured by the government to dial down the religious.
But at the same time, while the threat is real, it is not an immediate physical threat like much of the world faces. The Sunday after the Supreme Court verdict, there were police officers at my church. They were not there to arrest us, but rather they were there directing traffic in and out. They were there to make it easier for people to attend, not harder.
With that in mind, I want people to have their perspective on the court’s ruling on same sex marriage (and their warning about religious persecution) framed by a few pillars:
The truth is, Christians tend to be patriotic people. We love our country. But at the same time we know we have had a long history of convoluted morality. We are a country that celebrated slavery for over 100 years. Alexandria, where I live, was the nation’s second busiest slave-trading port (after Charleston). That is our heritage.
And it is naïve to fail to see the connection between the slave trade and what we are dealing with now in same-sex marriage. When you subject a whole race of people to slavery, teaching that their bodies are property that can be bought, sold and abused, it is only a small step to seeing babies similarly as the property of their parents. And if you have a culture that celebrates parent’s slaughtering their children (“I can do what I want to with my property!”), then what does it matter what gender the baby’s parents are?
So we should have a perspective based on history. For this to be what gets you to say “I’m done with the United States!” is kind of naïve. This is small icing compared to the cake that has gone before.
Now that the sin of gay marriage has been institutionalized, Christians are saddened because we know that legalizing SSM is not going to bring peace to those who pursue it. Jonathan Merritt wrote:
BREAKING: After #SCOTUS ruling, millions of straight married conservative Christians shocked to find their marriages are still in tact.
— Jonathan Merritt (@JonathanMerritt) June 26, 2015
To which I reply, next week people who are now legally married are going to wake up and be shocked that legal recognition did not remove their anger nor did it soothe their conscience. They have a ring on their finger but are still separated from God, and from the peace that he offers through Christ.
So we should have a perspective based on sympathy. According to Justice Kennedy, people pushed for legal recognition for SSM because they realize their homosexuality robs them of “their dignity,” and they feel that redefining marriage will return their dignity. Obviously it will do no such thing, and that should make us sorrowful. We don’t just grieve the institutionalization of sin, but we also lament the suffering that living in sin brings.
I do think there will be some good that comes out of this. First, I think many Christians are realizing today that their hope is not in the ballot box. There is no referendum that can undo this. There is not going to be a constitutional amendment that fixes this. The genie is not going back in the bottle.
For too long I’ve heard “if you don’t’ get out there and vote, the trajectory of our country is going to lead to gay marriage!” Well, that happened, and there is not another vote to undo it (and as California’s Prop 8 showed, even if there was a vote to undo it, it wouldn’t’ count anyway). We have reached the limits of democracy, and there is no democratic way back.
Instead we put our hope in Christ as the one who reigns over judges and kings.
I’m thankful for the democratic process, and I receive it as a stewardship. But I don’t trust it or put my hope in it.
Do you realize that the Bible does not promise you that your church will have a tax-exempt status, that your college will be accredited, or that the government will pay young pastors to preach the gospel to her soldiers. But the Bible does promise us that God is sovereign, and that the nation’s raging will not overthrow him.