|For Immediate Release
June 30, 2015
By Jerry A. Johnson, Ph.D., President and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters
This is the first of a three-part commentary on the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
On Friday, June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote to impose so-called “gay marriage” on all 50 states. The White House celebrated with a rainbow lightshow. What can I say? I say this: It’s a shame.
It seems like a long time ago, but in 1997 when Ellen DeGeneres rehearsed her “coming out” television scene, she welled up with tears each time she said the line, “I’m gay.” According to The New York Times, in a later interview Ellen said that crying was because of “shame” that came from society telling her that she was “wrong.” Should Ellen have been ashamed? Was she wrong?
The irony of the recent Supreme Court ruling is that Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, constructed the opinion around a moral argument for “gay marriage” as opposed to a legal one. The dissenting justices pointed this out and anyone who reads the majority opinion can see it right away. The Court majority’s line of reasoning (feeling) was that America has seen the light, it is the good and loving thing to do, let’s get on the right side of history, etc. As an American, I am happy to defer to the Court for legal arguments. But when it comes to ethical questions, no thanks. As a Christian, for moral issues, I rely on Holy Scripture.
So, what does the Bible teach about this subject? Justice Kennedy and company to the contrary, the Scripture is clear and consistent that homosexual practice is immoral, sinful, and leads to judgment.
The prima facie case against homosexual activity is found on the first page of the first book of the Bible:
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth….” (Genesis 1:27-28)
From this biblical text we know that human beings are created male or female and that sexuality was ordered according to a procreative pattern. Same-sex relations do not fit this pattern. Granted, not all heterosexual relations produce children. But all match a male-female procreative pattern. Homosexual practice does not.
This creation theme is found again in Romans 1:18-32, which is the most extensive teaching on homosexuality in the Bible. The interesting thing about this passage is that the Apostle Paul does not base his argument upon the Old Testament law that calls same-sex activity an “abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). He could have. But instead he goes back to the beginning. Paul’s argument predates Israel and precedes the Law. Paul makes a creation argument. Namely, homosexual behavior is a rejection of the Creator and His created order of male-female sexuality. Paul does not mince words here. It is “vile.” It is “not fitting.” It is “shameful.” There was a reason that Ellen felt ashamed. Sin brings shame. I know because I have felt shame in my own life caused by other sins, as has every Christian.
Speaking of shame, the second chapter of the Bible uses this theme as it develops the creation pattern further. Here we read:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed, (Genesis 2:24-25)
These verses establish a family pattern of father and mother, of husband and wife, and male-female sexuality that has no shame. Sex without shame is biblical and possible for a male and a female who become husband and wife. It is not possible for two people of the same sex and never will be, no matter what the Court says.
We hear a variety of objections. A pious sounding one is, “Jesus never mentioned homosexuality!” Actually, we don’t know that. He may have. But what is meant by the statement must be that there are no “red-letter” verses in the Gospels specifically about it. At best, this is an argument from silence. I could equally say He did not support homosexuality because there is no specific record of it in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. It is not a weak argument; it is no argument.
Even though that objection cancels itself out, cutting both ways, it is also important to note that Jesus didn’t specifically mention a lot of subjects. Why not this one? He probably didn’t mention homosexuality because His ministry was in the Jewish context and there was no question or debate among His audience about it. Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Generic 1st Century Jews disagreed about much, but not about this. They all accepted the Old Testament teaching about homosexuality. It wasn’t an issue and that’s probably why He didn’t address it, or at least why it was not recorded in Scripture.
However, Jesus was once asked a trick question about marriage based on the Mosaic code. But like Paul, He did not answer according to that law. Instead He based His answer on the aforementioned foundational texts, combining the themes in Genesis 1 and 2:
Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate, (Matthew 19:4-6)
Because Jesus is Lord, Christians must come under His authority on three principles here: 1) Human sexuality was something established by God in creation, “by Him who made them at the beginning.” Marriage is no mere human construct. It goes back to the beginning of the human race; 2) that creation pattern is man and wife, male and female. There is no same-sex pattern in creation sexuality; and 3) marriage is about what God joins together. We don’t get to decide marriage rules. God does.
Considering the rich cultural history of marriage and the electoral majorities that have voted for “one man-one woman” marriage, the Chief Justice was right to ask in his dissent, “Just who do we think we are?” Considering the above scriptural teachings of Moses, Paul, and Jesus, “Just who do we think we are?” indeed. Does the U.S. Supreme Court deign to overrule the Supreme Being? Do five un-elected, unaccountable justices think they can overrule the Maker of heaven and earth?
Others object on the grounds that the biblical authors must have been simple-minded folk and didn’t understand, and we Bible-believing Christians don’t understand either. However, the enlightened ones today know that a woman can have a female “husband” and a man can have a male “wife.” Actually, Paul was well acquainted with this kind of approach among the Gentiles. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Paul includes two words for same-sex activity in a vice list:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, not idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Why the apparent redundancy (“nor homosexuals, nor sodomites”)? Actually, it is not a repetition. Paul is very specific, almost clinical, in his use of New Testament Greek language. While both of these words refer to homosexuality, one term is active and the other is passive. One refers to the “male” actor and the other to the “female” actor. Since homosexual practice is un-natural, someone must play the other sex role. With two homosexual men, one plays the male and the other the female. With two lesbian women, one plays the husband and the other plays the wife. This is true of the relationship and of the sex act. Without going into further detail, the reality is that the New Testament is not unsophisticated on this point. Paul was aware of dual homosexual roles and teaches that both are sinful as acted out in a same-sex relationship.
It is worth noting how “counterfeit” homosexual relationships and sex acts actually reinforce what Moses, Paul, and Jesus taught about authentic marriage and sexuality. The idea of “two” people, playing out “masculine and feminine” characters in a relationship, acting out “male and female” roles in the sex act, and now wanting to be “joined together” in “marriage” is telling. Why does a lesbian want a husband, albeit a female “husband”? Why do they want to get married at all? The answer is obvious. All this mimicry just proves the gold standard of male-female sexuality, marriage between husband and wife, is the real thing.
On the one hand, the Court’s majority and same-sex marriage advocates endorse what marriage has been all of these years. They commend it as a good, something to be extended to others, something from which gays and lesbians should not be “locked out.” On the other hand, they must destroy that desired thing by redefinition to let gays and lesbians in. To make it available to all, it must be redefined. Once redefined away from a male-female institution to “anything goes,” it ceases to exist. Logically, by making marriage everything they have made it nothing. Ethically, by this definition they have corrupted it into a moral shame.
Someone else objects, “Why single homosexuality out?” To the contrary, homosexual sin is part of the vice list above, as well as others. Instead, it is those who want to justify homosexual activity who are looking to single it out. We do not hear calls to remove thieves from the list, or adulterers. It is the defenders who want an exception, by taking homosexual behavior off the list, who are guilty of singling it out.
The bad news is that no matter what the Supreme Court has said, no matter how happy some think these “marriages” will make them, those who live this lifestyle “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The good news is that no matter how far one has gone into this dark world, or how long they have been involved in this sin, they can be forgiven and changed through the Gospel. Justice Kennedy justifies homosexuality and laments a time when society sought to change homosexuals. To the contrary, the Apostle Paul seeks a different “justification.” He celebrates Corinthian church members who had come out of this lifestyle and had been washed, sanctified, and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Yes, same-sex attraction may be an ongoing issue of temptation, as different sinful tendencies are for other Christians who battle with various kinds of struggles. Yes, this is a matter of discipleship and requires ongoing spiritual formation. But if the Bible means anything here it means that homosexuals can be forgiven and changed by the Holy Spirit like all other saved sinners. This is the Christian Gospel. Christ died for our sins and rose again. This is the message for Ellen and many others. I know because it was the message for me and has been for all others who believe. Though our particular sins may differ, the solution is the same. Jesus saves from all sin and shame.
Some politicians (and even some Christians) object that however sinful homosexual practice might be, we can’t legislate morality. But this Supreme Court opinion is not about what is merely tolerated or allowed, it is about making marriage a legal right that can be demanded. This manufactured right is being imposed on the states and will be required of the county clerks, regardless of their beliefs. As we have seen from lower courts, these “marriages” must, by force of law, be catered by the bakers, decorated by the florists, photographed by the photographers, and hosted by the wedding chapels – in spite of their beliefs against homosexual marriage.
Likewise, objectors of this sort will say I’m overlooking “the separation of church and state.” To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, they keep using that phrase and I do not think it means what they think it means. It means we should not have a European style state-church, or a Vatican-like church-state. It does not mean Judeo-Christian principles are irrelevant for government public policy.
For instance, most of these critics rightly celebrate the Judeo-Christian principles that led the abolitionists to destroy the slave trade. Likewise, they laud Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for basing the civil rights movement on biblical arguments and rallying the cause to victory. These leaders are also happy to talk about Old or New Testament ideas when they think it will help an environmental cause, their immigration agenda, the latest program for the poor, and so on. They regularly support political, legislative, and other legal efforts with appeals to Christian teaching, but deny that method in this case. Can they pick and choose, and be consistent? They must decide if Judeo-Christian principles are to inform public policy, or not. You must decide, too.
Other Christian leaders now caution against sounding shrill, apocalyptic, or going too negative in general. There is much that is good in that warning. This is one of the reasons why I signed on to the “Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage” pledge. Besides clearly standing up for marriage, it discourages “outrage and panic” over the court decision because God is on the throne and His Kingdom is not threatened by any political development. I also understand the need to be on mission, winsome, evangelistic, and all things to all men that we might by all means save some.
However, let us be equally clear that we need the prophetic voice like Isaiah, who cried out, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Will anyone say “Woe” to President Obama? Will anyone say “Woe” to Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Breyer, Kagan, and Ginsburg. Anyone? Anyone?
We need more prophets like John the Baptist, who spoke rough and straight to political and religious leaders. This is not the time for naïve Christians to use a surface WWJD slogan, to withdraw and say “Let’s just be loving like Jesus.” Remember that the loving Jesus also lashed out with a whip at those who took something sacred and were trying to corrupt it for secular purposes.
Still someone else counters that Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” I know that, too, and it’s also why I’ve pledged to respect and pray for governing authorities. We must pray for these leaders publicly in our churches, with our families at home, and privately when no one is looking.
But I also consider how Jesus responded when He was warned by His disciples to leave the area because King Herod was out to get him. Jesus said, “Go tell that fox” about my mission, I’m going anyway. At His trial before Pontius Pilate, the loving Jesus also rebuked the Roman governor by saying that he would not have power if it had not been given to him by God.
So here’s some Christian messaging on the High Court decision. In the spirit of the Gospel, no matter what the Supreme Court says, homosexual practice is sinful. It is not a cause for celebration. But instead, as with all kinds of sin, it is a cause for repentance. We should kindly invite these folks to Jesus and His Church. Along with every other Christian, I am a sinner who needed a Savior telling other sinners where I found forgiveness and change. At the cross, Jesus took care of my sin and shame. He can do it for Ellen. He can do it for you. “Come to Jesus.” This is our message.
In the spirit of the New Testament, let’s respect government offices and pray for those who hold them. Let’s work within the electoral process to get the right laws and the right leaders, as well as get rid of the wrong laws and the wrong leaders.
In the spirit of the prophets, given the great harm done by this Court and President, I also say, “Shame.” Shame on you, Supreme Court. Shame on you, President Obama. You should be ashamed because you have called evil, "good" and called good, "evil." As leaders, you have misled the people in your care, many who think that having a legal “gay marriage” will lead to human flourishing. It will not. It is sin that leads to personal destruction and final judgment.
This three-part commentary will continue this week. Part 2: “Supreme Sham” will cover legal considerations. Part 3: “Supreme Shambles” will cover practical considerations.
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