The White House was lit with the colors of the rainbow, the recent symbol for the gay and lesbian political movement, following the 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage. Our president sent the nation a message, and, for Christians, it was seen as showing incredibly bad taste.
As most evangelical observers have noted, the battle now turns to religious liberty. The freedom we have known as followers of Christ is, at best, in question. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the ruling by the majority of the court “has potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberties.” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler said the ruling by the court “has placed every religious institution in legal jeopardy if that institution intends to uphold its theological convictions limiting marriage to the union of a man and woman. We must contend for religious liberty for all and focus our energies on protecting the rights of Christian citizens and Christian institutions to teach and operate on the basis of Christian conviction. We cannot be silent, and we cannot fail to contend for marriage as the union of a man and woman.”
What’s next, specifically for clergy and Christian churches that choose to practice what we believe regarding marriage? We could see ministers officiate at weddings while choosing not to be the representatives of the state. Typically a minister says something like, “By the power vested in me by the state of South Carolina, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” The minister, or officiant, signs the marriage license as an agent of the state, making the marriage legal. Christian ceremonies and the civil licensing of marriage could become two separate things. One would be a worship service without a license, and the other the legal signing of the license by a government representative. We could be moving to a time when the church house and the courthouse are divorced from each other when it comes to marriage.
There are many more questions that loom in the wake of this new federal ruling on marriage. Christian universities and other faith-based organizations (especially those receiving government funds) could lose their tax-exempt status and/or federal funding if they refuse to accommodate the same-sex ruling — despite the court’s veiled assurance of religious liberty.
Lawsuits will likely come. God’s people will be challenged in greater ways. Some secular journalists are already calling for doing away with tax-exempt status for most nonprofit organizations, especially churches. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed, “The mischief that will emerge from this ruling across the years to come will know little respite and trigger enormous suffering for believers and unbelievers alike.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, warned that the greatest challenges to Christian liberty resulting from this ruling may be unforeseen. Evangelical leaders overwhelmingly agree that our religious liberties will be challenged and may be severely changed — possibly even eliminated.
There will no doubt be a cost to pay for those who choose to follow Jesus Christ and obey His Word. Our mission, however, has not changed. We are still called to love God and love our neighbor. From that life of obedience will come opportunities to share the Gospel. We can anticipate opposition, but we can also be assured of the faithfulness of our great God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. No court appointed by people or governments can change His character, His Word or His reality.
To read “Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage,” visit BaptistCourier.com/marriage-declaration.