Can you imagine a law passing unanimously in the House of Representatives and with a 97-3 majority in the Senate? It happened in 1996. That law was the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which legally codified the definition of marriage as one man married to one woman. President Clinton signed the law, settling the issue once for all—or so we were told.
The Supreme Court upended that legislation with their decision finding the right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution. Now, to avoid any threat to that interpretation, our national legislative bodies are poised to adopt the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA), recognizing and protecting same-sex marriage as a national norm.
To make this law politically palatable and gain the necessary votes, it includes some protections for leaders, churches, and organizations which oppose it on religious grounds. Those protections were included to placate wavering politicians, not grant anything new to religious communities. And, if past patterns hold, they will be gradually eroded by court decisions as opponents challenge them over the next few years.
When this new law is passed, nothing will change the next morning in America. But what will the impact be in the next 25 years? It only took 25 years for LGBTQ-influenced political leaders to nullify DOMA, by gaining cultural support for their position unthinkable just a generation ago. The cultural changes this new law will initiate will redefine our country in a myriad of ways.
One impact will be on churches as they navigate this cultural upheaval. While churches can legally refuse to perform same-sex marriage, that is only one small part of developing a ministerial response to these families. Even drawing a line at church membership does not solve all the issues. Churches are supposed to reach people in their communities—including persons in same-sex marriages who need to hear the gospel. Finding ways to accommodate these families, without accepting their lifestyle choices, will be a thorny challenge.
These challenges will be compounded by the relational issues involved for many Christians. A stately gentleman, a pillar in his church for 50 years, recently asked me, “How do I relate to my granddaughter who just married a woman? She grew up in our church. She claims to be a Christian. I love her. How do I relate to her and her new wife?”
The pain in his eyes and the tears on his cheeks reveal how personal these issues are. We have some serious work to do to help Christians find their way through these uncharted waters. Church leaders and churches have a responsibility to uphold the biblical standard for marriage. We also have an obligation to preach the gospel, welcoming people from every background and with every imaginable problem to hear the good news we offer. And, when people are converted from whatever background, addiction, or family constellation—we must disciple them, standing with them through the changes and challenges of living their newfound faith.
We have some significant work to do living with the tension in these missional mandates. May God give us wisdom to find a way forward and patience with each other as we do.
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