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Do the courts define marriage?

Same-sex Marriage is Now the Law of the Land

On June 26, 2014, wlfi.com published an article with this headline:

Same-sex couples wed at Tippecanoe Co. Courthouse

After great amounts of debate earlier this year over the locally infamous HJR-6, a resolution by the two houses of Indiana state government to put a prohibition against same-sex marriage into the state constitution, our legislators decided that one of the phrases in the resolution went too far. In response, they modified the resolution (now called HJR-3) and thereby also delayed its appearance on an Indiana ballot until 2016.

Many in Indiana felt that the constitutional amendment was unnecessary because there is already a law in the state of Indiana prohibiting same-sex marriage. However, all that changed this past Wednesday.

On Wednesday, June 25, 2014, U.S. District Judge Richard Young declared that Indiana’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This ruling, because it comes from a Federal judge, claims that Indiana’s law was a violation of the rights provided in the U.S. Constitution.

Therefore, unless a higher Federal court recognizes the right of states to determine their own understanding of marriage, this ruling effectively makes same-sex marriage the de-facto law of the entire nation.

The notion of a state constitutional amendment on marriage is irrelevant now.

Marriage is Now a Basic Right

I have performed many weddings in my years of being a pastor. I’ve married people in Indiana, Illinois, and California, and in each case, I have had to sign documents verifying that the marriage complied with the laws of the individual state in which I was performing the ceremony. Up until this week, the marriages I have performed have always been as an agent of that single state in which they were performed.

In fact, whether Ohio wanted to recognize a marriage I performed in Illinois was always a matter for Ohio to decide for itself. Each state was free to determine its on policies on marriage and whether it would recognize marriage from another state or not.

Up until this week, that is.

You see, this federal court ruling means that marriage in the United States is recognized actually as a basic human right protected by the U.S. Constitution. Though individual states are still apparently responsible for overseeing the actual details of marriage, they are much more limited as to what kinds of details they can put into their understanding of marriage.

So Who Defines Marriage?

Therefore, as a person who has acted as an agent of the state in performing marriages, I have done a great deal of thinking about same-sex marriage and about marriage in general.

You see, years ago, I saw myself as “a minister of Christ and an agent of the State of ____________” and in fact, I would state as much in my wedding ceremonies. I saw myself as someone performing a legal ceremony even though I was doing it with an emphasis on the biblical principles of Christian marriage.

I have been using the “agent of the State of ____________” construction in my wedding ceremonies for over a decade just because I thought I was supposed to, but in reality, I never really thought the state, the court, or any human agency had the authority to tell me what marriage was or should be.

The truth is that God has given us all the “definition” we need for marriage.

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’

‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Mark 10:5-9 NIV

So, back in 2011, after receiving advice from the district leadership of Converge MidAmerica, the church planting organization through which we started Lafayette Community Church, I spent some time in deep thought over the true definition of marriage, and, because of the district’s recommendation, I put my convictions on this matter into our church By-laws. If you haven’t seen them, this is the relevant portion under a section we call Biblical Convictions


3.3.5 Human Sexuality

God created humans to be sexual beings and subsequently created marriage to provide for and protect that sexuality. Therefore, regardless of sexual orientation, human sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage. (Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18-25; 1 Corinthians 7:2-3, 10-16)

3.3.5.1 Marriage. Marriage is a sacred institution ordained by God for the good of mankind, the propagation of the race, and the expression of His image on earth. It is a spiritual and physical union into which one man and one woman may enter for the glory of God and is to be broken, according to the scriptural ideal, only by death. This understanding of marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman is the only notion of marriage recognized in the Bible. As such, it is not open to societal or legal reinterpretation or redefinition. (Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:18-25, Matthew 19:4-6, Matthew 19:8-12, Mark 10:4-9, Romans 7:2)

3.3.5.2 Sexual Orientation. We understand “sexual orientation” to refer to a person’s predominant form of sexual desire and temptation. However, all desires, sexual or not, are subject to the boundaries of expression set up by God and taught in his Word. Thankfully, temptations, though real and powerful, are not irresistible. God promises the strength to resist temptation and the power to reshape all desires into conformity with his will. Finally, Scripture teaches that all sexual behavior, regardless of a person’s orientation, is sinful if not confined to the context of marriage. (Leviticus 18:21-23; 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:8-11; 1 Timothy 1: 9-10; Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20, 29; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 13:4; Psalm 37:4)

Emphasis added for this blog post.


The key line for me at the time is still the key line for me today:

This understanding of marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman is the only notion of marriage recognized in the Bible. As such, it is not open to societal or legal reinterpretation or redefinition.

Therefore, we have now reached the societal impasse that many of us have anticipated for a long time. We have now come to a point in the history where our country views something as a basic human right that the Bible claims is not.

Two Kinds of Marriage

Therefore, as a people who respect the teaching of Jesus and the authority of the God who rose him from the dead but who also strive to live under the authority of the government God has established for this time and place, our only solution is to create for ourselves a dual understanding of marriage:

Legal Marriage

In submission to the laws of our land, we will recognize that our government has endorsed as a basic human right a social contract it calls “marriage” into which two people (with few limits on who) may enter. This legal social contract provides certain additional rights to those who enter it, but it also provides certain additional responsibilities as well.

This contract may be initiated far more easily than it may be terminated, but termination (called divorce) is still a legal option.

Christian Marriage

In submission to the teaching of our Lord and Savior, we will recognize that God himself established a basic human social structure called “husband and wife” (colloquially “marriage”) which is neither a “right” nor an “obligation” but rather is a divine “blessing” and “provision” so that humans might know loving, lifelong, supportive companionship, might find joy in sexual intimacy, might provide a loving environment for raising the next generation, and might also represent God himself more fully in this world than any individual could do by himself or herself.

Also, in submission to the teaching of our Lord, we will recognize that sin and the hard-heartedness of people may make divorce the “lesser of two evils” but that in the words of Jesus, divorce is always synonymous with the sin of adultery (Matthew 5:31-32) either by resulting from it or by causing it.

Also, in submission to the teaching of our Lord, we recognize that all lusts and expressions of sexuality that do not fall under the exclusive umbrella of Christian marriage are to be considered immoral (Matthew 5:27-28). That means viewing pornography or provocative media, reading erotic material, entertaining fantasies, or engaging in any form of sexual activity unless it is all 100% exclusively contained within a lifelong covenant of Christian marriage is immoral and out of bounds for followers of Jesus.

As Paul himself said,

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

1 Corinthians 7:1-11 NIV

The rest of the passage is worth a read too!

One more thing…

In light of our current societal shifts, it’s essentially important that Christians also recognize the fundamental truth that sexual immorality is but one category of sin. It is by no means worse than or less than any other sin. According to Jesus and his earliest followers, the standard for our lives is the moral perfection of God himself, and we have all missed that mark.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48 NIV

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 3:23 NIV

So, in one of his strongest affirmations to live a life in line with God’s will, the Apostle Paul taught us this:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:5-14 NIV

Our calling is not to rally against specific sins, but to defeat all sin in ourselves, to walk in the reality of a new life through Christ, and to show love and compassion to all, beginning with the family of believers and extending to the world around us!

Conclusions

So, I’m writing this post here to declare officially my position on marriage, the marriages I will perform from here on out, and my relationship to our shifting culture.

As a minister of Christ, the only marriages I will personally endorse are Christian Marriages. I may at times make exceptions for people who have been divorced or promiscuous before choosing to marry each other, but I personally will not perform any ceremony for people who are not committed to following the teachings of Jesus in their marriage.

Furthermore, as a minister of Christ, I recognize that I am only an “agent of the state” insofar as the state chooses to legally solemnize the marriages I perform.

As a citizen of the United States, I will not withhold any legally identified rights from people who are legally married or who are pursuing legal marriage.

As a leader of Lafayette Community Church, I will uphold the convictions of our church By-laws and stand up for our religious right as a church to hold such convictions.

As a follower of Jesus, I will strive to represent him well, him who was “full of grace and truth”, by walking the tightrope between proclaiming his truth and offering his grace. I will personally offer love and compassion to all I meet and grace and forgiveness to all who seek God in repentance.

 

May the God who created this world and knows what’s best for his creation, grant me the strength to walk the narrow path of personal purity, to boldly speak the truth where it must be heard, and to winsomely offer grace to a world lost in sin.