Results tagged “Same-sex marriage” from Reformation21 Blog

According to President Barack Obama, "we are all more free" as a result of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage last month -- a claim that disturbed me slightly more than images of the White House bathed in rainbow-colored light in celebration of that decision. Obama's claim, it seems to me, trades on a definition of "freedom" that most Americans -- even, perhaps, evangelical Christian Americans -- would (at least implicitly) embrace, regardless of their convictions about the propriety of same-sex marriage. Freedom, according to that definition, is inversely related to the number of restrictions placed upon my person and my choices in life. Insofar, the logic seems to go, as the number of people that I can legally enter into marriage with in America doubled (more or less) by virtue of a single ruling of America's Supreme Court last month, I must be "more free."

At least one aspect of the Christian Church's response to the Court's decision -- and the broader phenomenon it represents (that is, a perceived liberty to redefine entities and institutions which have their existence and proper definition from God) -- must be serious theological reflection upon the nature of true freedom. Scripture and the Christian theological tradition, I suggest, define "freedom" rather differently than your average American (president). Freedom according to these sources would seem to mean not the absence of as many restrictions as reasonably possible upon my choices in life, but the absence of those particular realities that restrict me from being who I really am, from fulfilling the identity given to me by God in creation (and restored to me in redemption), and the corresponding liberty to choose (only) that which reflects my true identity.

We could, of course, argue such a definition of freedom from Christ's words in John 8:36: "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." The freedom Christ promises in this text is not one of unrestrained choices, but liberty from sin and Satan -- those realities that try their damnedest to make people something other than the God-glorifying and God-enjoying divine image-bearers they were created to be (cf. John 8:34-35, 44).

But for such a notion of human freedom to have depth and stability, it must ultimately be constructed and seen as an analogue to divine freedom. Nothing and no one, after all, is more free than God. "The Deity is possessed not only of infinite knowledge," wrote the sixteenth-century reformer Jerome Zanchi, "but likewise of absolute liberty of will." Yet God (freely!) professes to us, in Scripture, his own inability to lie (Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18). There is no real contradiction between ascribing "absolute liberty" to God and asserting God's inability to lie, because God's "absolute liberty" -- that is, God's freedom -- means not the absence of any restraints (including those imposed by his own nature) upon his choices, but the absence of restraints upon the exercise of who he is. Thus, the option (as it were) of lying (or committing evil in some other form) would not and could not make God more free than God is. God is most free because he is himself -- Triune, just, merciful, loving, etc. -- in everything he does.

If we look to divine freedom for guidance in properly conceiving human freedom, it should become obvious that restrictions on opportunities -- particularly, opportunities to do evil -- do not jeopardize that freedom. Indeed, they can push us towards true freedom, even if our own freedom will not be perfected until that day in which our own (glorified) nature, rather than external force(s), fully restricts our choices and occasions for evil.

While his own notion of divine freedom was (in my judgment) problematic at points, the twentieth-century Swiss theologian Karl Barth had a proper sense for how divine freedom and true human freedom correspond, and how that truth should implicate our understanding of human freedom. Barth explored this territory in his essay "The Gift of Freedom" (in The Humanity of God). Having made, in that essay, some comments on divine freedom, he said this of human freedom:

God does not put man into the situation of Hercules at the crossroads. The opposite is true. God frees man from this false situation. He lifts him from appearance to reality. It is true that man's God-given freedom is choice, decision, act. But it is genuine choice; it is genuine decision and act in the right direction... Sinful man is not free, he is a captive, a slave. When genuine human freedom is realized, inevitably the door to the 'right' opens and the door to the 'left' is shut. This inevitability is what makes God's gift of freedom so marvelous, and yet at the same time so terrifying. [...] His (the Christian's) freedom is the joy of that obedience which is given to him. This is a daring venture whenever it is undertaken. [...] It is the venture of responsibility in the presence of the Giver and the fellow receivers of the gift - past, present, and future. It is the venture of obedience whereby man reflects in his own life God's offer and his own response.

(Interestingly, Barth on one recorded occasion named the proper definition and defense of both divine and human freedom as a "front line" theological issue, and remembered with apparent satisfaction the sober warning he had issued America as he left her shores about the imminent rising of a "theology of unfreedom." One wonders if Barth didn't have a prophetic inclination that a properly defined and theologically rich notion of freedom could only exist on a collision course with the counterfeit version of "freedom" -- propped up by the rhetoric of "liberty for all" and regular fireworks displays -- one meets so often in America...)

As regards the issue of marriage, it is -- to steal Barth's phrase -- the Supreme Court that has "put man into the situation of Hercules at the crossroads." Our nation's laws and cultural norms increasingly burden us with choices no individual should ever have to make -- choices about whether to be a man or a woman (think Bruce Jenner), whether to be white or black (think Rachel Dolezal), whether to marry a man or woman, and so on. Such choices are slavery, plain and simple.

With all due respect to President Obama, then, we are not "more free" as a result of the Court's decision last month. True freedom as it pertains to marriage would entail not increasing choices about whom I might marry, but increasing encouragement from without and courage within to make my marriage reflect more and more the true, God-given definition of that institution, and so to ever-increasingly reflect the relationship of love, longing, humility, and submission that exists between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph. 5:22-33).

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

I have little idea what challenges American churches (and other institutions) that refuse to recognize same-sex "marriages" may soon face in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, announced today. The Wall Street Journal's Jerry Seib says this feels like the end of a national debate, the final word on a once politically divisive issue in America. It's not that simple, but I suspect he's more right than wrong; the decision already feels a touch passé, as though the court is trying to catch up with a culture already moving on, and the news has dropped off the banner of several major news sites.

If Seib is right, it only shows just how marginalized confessional evangelical types are. But that assumes confessional evangelical types all agree that this decision is wrong. There are those who support gay marriage as a civil matter while believing the act itself immoral.

Obviously, not all immoral acts should be criminalized by the state. Although the state is constantly scalp-deep in moral issues, it lacks the competency to deal with large swaths of the moral order, such as internal acts of the heart or mind. Not even all external acts, capable of being publicly established, are criminalized. Should the state fill its treasury and prisons by prosecuting the merely rude, immodest, or gluttonous? Even the criminality of prostitution and drug use is up for debate today.

But these are not the same sorts of issues as gay marriage. Abortion, prostitution, pornography, drug abuse: these kinds of immoral acts are widely practiced while illegal. Same-sex marriage, however, was not even possible in most states in this country in 2013, now the legal entity exists everywhere. The actions of the state have, over the last decade or so, not decriminalized an immoral practice but created something new by legally redefining a divinely-instituted estate.

To the degree statecraft is soul craft this is a tragedy. It may never manifest itself in the socio-economic desiderata we pay so much attention to as a society--surely one of the reasons so many of our neighbors can't imagine how this is a bad idea--but it springs from a failure to gratefully acknowledge God and sweeps us along toward even more audacious folly down stream.

But, however terrible this error is, it's preferable to another championed by many of my more libertarian students and friends: that "the state should get out of the marriage business." I suspect this view will seduce even more Reformed folks going forward, but it turns on an even more fundamental misunderstanding of marriage. Marriage is not just a religious rite or custom, but a really existing estate established by God among all people and thus something every state needs to recognize and respect, provide for and protect.

The error settled into federal law today is grave and the practice it warrants confused and defiant. That the state still recognizes the reality of marriage and legally provides for true marriages (as well as false ones) may be little comfort, but it is a very big deal. As we lament this decision for our nation and grapple with its effects over the weeks and years to come, the libertarian line will no doubt look very attractive at times. But to adopt it would be like trying to put out a chimney fire by burning down the house. If the chimney fire isn't put out, the house may burn down anyway. But it's better to have a house with a cracked chimney than no house at all.
The litigious assault on bakers, florists, and photographers who have convictions against serving same-sex wedding planners is a sad cause of much angst these days. Noticing this, Frank Bruni of the New York Times devoted his Jan 10 column to reassuring readers that gay activism is no threat to religious liberty. The very idea is "absurd," he claims, and little more than "a fig leaf for intolerance." Anyone actually concerned is the victim of "cynically engineered" confusion "about the consequences of marriage-equality laws."

Bruni surely knows cynical engineers are equal opportunity exploiters. But never mind that, there's no ground for concern. Just because the courts have "been siding so far with the gay couples" who are suing to coerce these small business owners does not mean religious liberty is at risk:
marriage-equality laws do not pertain to religious services or what happens in a church, temple or mosque; no clergy member will be compelled to preside over gay nuptials. Civil weddings are covered. That's it.
Glad to have his promise on that. Now what about the devout at work in their own businesses--do they enjoy similar protections?
Baking a cake, arranging roses, running an inn: These aren't religious acts, certainly not if the establishments aren't religious enclaves and are doing business with (and even dependent on) the general public.
Oh, I see.
I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish--in their pews, homes and hearts. But outside of those places? You must put up with me, just as I put up with you.
As Bruni sees it, the liberty of conscience and religious speech only pertain to what happens in worship services conducted in recognized religious spaces by clergy, and in the privacy of their homes and hearts. Citizens are not protected from government coercing them to act contrary to their respective religious community's long-established and peaceably-held moral convictions. In public, the devout must put up and shut up--which seems to be what some same-sex activists are demanding.

But the accused small business owners don't seem to have a problem putting up with gays and lesbians. At least one couple employed an openly gay man, surely most of the accused served gay and lesbian customers without issue in the past, and I suspect they were trying to serve the ones who ended up suing them when they were confronted with a personal moral dilemma. They did not "exile gays and lesbians" as Bruni claims, they only balked at providing a particular good or service when doing so meant participating in what they are convinced is an offense to God.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was recently asked about this issue in Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty journal:
The issue at hand is whether or not the state has the power to coerce someone to participate using his or her creative gifts to celebrate something that that person believes to be deeply sinful. . . . I think there are tremendous implications from that not only for Christians, but for everyone.
Admittedly, providing a good or service is not always the same as participating in the activity for which it is procured. Yet in some cases it may be a way of participating in or endorsing the activity. The moral question for these bakers and florists turns in part on whether supplying a wedding cake or flower arrangement in celebration of same-sex wedding ceremonies is such a case. That's a question to take up in another post.

Assuming it is, however, Moore draws a helpful analogy:
What about a Christian web-designer? Should he or she be forced to design a website for a pornographic company? It's legal. So should that person's conscience simply be run over in the process? I think that if the answer to that is yes, we have a society that is less free.
Many people would reject this analogy, however, because they view homosexuality as just like race or gender. There is, they believe, a fundamental difference between refusing to participate in legally permitted immoral behavior (producing pornography) and discriminating against people who happen to be homosexual (or Arab or female). This view now prevails and is the reason why conscientious objectors to same-sex weddings are finding little favor in the courthouses and market places of America.

We do not have to agree with those who refrain from serving same-sex wedding planners to feel the sting of being denied the right to refuse as a matter of conscience--a sting that smarts with economic persecution.

So, should we be anxious about the apparent erosion of religious liberty in America? God forbids it--literally. Not because the crusade is sure to soon sputter out--this may well be just the beginning. And certainly not because Bruni has given us his word that same-sex activists will leave the devout alone at church and at home--his narrow construal of religious liberty is chilling and promise of peace unconvincing. No, we must not be anxious because our hope is in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. He is for his own and ordered this to his glory and our saving good, and he promises to stand with us whatever comes our way, even in death itself. To be anxious is to forget that Christ has overcome all things, to act like those who have no hope. In hope we must keep baking, arranging, and serving the good of all people until he returns--as far as our conscience, ruled by his word alone, allows.