Supreme Court & Same Sex Marriage

Supreme CourtThe decision of the Supreme Court to redefine marriage was not a surprise to most of us.  Some are celebrating the decision as a major step forward for civil rights – a step of progress toward a more inclusive future for humanity.  Others are deeply troubled by the decision – seeing it as our culture’s deepening rejection of God’s good and beautiful design for marriage as one man, one woman, one flesh, one covenant, one lifetime.

If you’ve been at this church for a while you know what I believe and teach about this issue.  I’ve always taught that there are many things in our society that are legal but aren’t right (My friend Bruce is a pastor in Carson City where prostitution is legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s right).  Followers of Jesus don’t look at man-made laws to learn right from wrong – instead we look to Jesus – we look to God’s word to know right from wrong.  And what God has for us in his word is infinitely better for the entire human race than any man-made ideas or systems or approaches to life.  God’s way is always the best way for individuals, for families, for communities, and for nations.  That’s been true from the very beginning and it is still true today.  God’s design for marriage and human sexuality is so much better and beautiful than any vision for these areas of life that are put forward by our surrounding culture.

The very first Christians had beliefs and values and moral convictions that were at odds with the beliefs and values and moral convictions of the Roman Empire – and they were persecuted for being different – for being out-of-step with the customs of their culture.  But they loved all people – they served the poor, the sick – particularly those afflicted with diseases – and took care of them even when their own families rejected them.  They rescued babies who had been left to die of exposure and gave them homes.  They proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed – that we are all sinners and we all need Jesus – and we can all be forgiven and walk with God in ways that honor God and in ways that bless the human family.  Followers of Jesus for 2000 years have continued that legacy of love for all people – even those with whom we disagree, because that’s what Jesus taught us to do.

We need to keep doing that.

I don’t mean to minimize the decision of the Supreme Court.  Marriage is a big issue.  It’s a very big issue.  I think the redefinition of marriage will lead to greater sexual and moral confusion and more rapid decline of the family in our culture.  I think it creates more problems than it solves.   I hope I’m wrong on this – I really do.  But that’s how I see it.

But I’m not going to let myself get anxious or depressed about this.  Even though marriage is a big issue – it’s not an ultimate issue.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate issue.   Our commitment to Christ – our commitment to God’s Word – our commitment to loving all people – particularly those who are our enemies in these culture wars – that doesn’t change.

So I want to encourage you – put Jesus first in all of this.  Trust God – God is not surprised by this turn of events.  In his sovereign plan he has put you and me here to serve him by loving others and loving what is good, true, noble, pure, and right (Philippians 4:8).

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” — Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Baltimore, Authority, and Civil Society

We humans have a love/hate relationship with authority. Those on the left tell us to ‘Question Authority’ and those on the right tell us to ‘Respect Authority’. The truth for us likely lies somewhere between these polarizing opposites.

As I watched the television images from Baltimore during the recent riots one disturbing image that has stayed in my mind is that of a group of boys and men using baseball bats, bricks, and rocks to destroy a police car. Afterward they stomped on the hood and windshield and stood on top for photos to be taken with fists and fingers raised in defiance.

The political left tends to blame the riots on racism, generationally entrenched poverty, and police brutality. The political right tends to see the riots as a result of lawlessness, gang culture, and fatherless families. Most of us agree that the problems of urban America are complicated and that sweeping solutions are hard to come by.

Back to the issue of authority. The destruction of police cars and the posing on top for photos is partly an act of raw rage, partly an act of retaliation against police brutality, and partly an act of foolish youthful male bravado. Yet for many it is also an act of defiance against authority – or more precisely – an act of defiance against what is perceived to be illegitimate authority. Police are perceived by some to be racist, dishonest, and violent, therefore their authority is seen as something which should be resisted and rebelled against.

Rebellion against authority is, in many ways, woven into American cultural DNA. The founding of the United States of America was an act of rebellion against authority. It was a rebellion against what was understood as an illegitimate authority (the British Empire) which was misusing its power in how it governed the American colonies (“taxation without representation”). So we rose up to fight against the illegitimate authority and set up a new authority – a “more perfect union.”

As a conservative thinker, I believe that respect for authority is a good and necessary part of civilized society (as the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 13). I also believe that being a cop is a very difficult job and they deserve our respect. No one is perfect, but when police are treated with respect everything functions better for everyone. Yet I also agree with those on the left that when authority is misused, whether it is by teachers or pastors or CEO’s or politicians or police, it has a way of subtracting from the legitimacy of the authority being exercised.

I think we all agree that when those in authority do not act with good character and integrity in the exercise of their office, then everyone loses bigtime. Sadly it just takes one clergy molestation, one lying CEO, one crooked cop, one corrupt politician, and the legitimacy of the authority structure needed for civil society can be undermined significantly. So when we read almost every day of new misuses of authority in business, law enforcement, schools, churches, and government offices, the authority structures in these vocations are damaged and diminished.

For the common good to be advanced, respect for authority is necessary, even when authority is imperfectly exercised. At the same time, those in authority have a sacred obligation to use their authority wisely and honestly in order for the human community to flourish.

Our love/hate relationship with authority may be an outer sign of our own internal spiritual struggles. As Martin Luther put it: “By nature, humankind does not want God to be God. Instead, he wants himself to be God and he does not want God to be God.” So we are, in many ways, in rebellion against God’s divine authority over all of life. And yet, when we think of the way that our God exercises his authority over us, I wonder if we might be able to come to love and cherish his authority instead of rebelling against it.

We are told in the Bible that the Lord Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Yet the authority of Jesus is not the kind of illegitimate authority which is seen in the despotic ruler, the greedy CEO, or the crooked cop. Instead his authority is the one truly legitimate authority in heaven and earth. He is the one truly good man who exercises his authority without corruption, without greed, and without bigotry. He came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for all people of all races and nations. When we rebel against his authority we do harm to ourselves and to others. When we embrace his authority our hearts and minds find rest and life in the human community finds its truest and deepest peace.