Ask Me: How Should I Respond to the SCOTUS Decision if I Disagreed?

Dear Bronwyn,

How would you suggest Christians who don’t believe in the morality of gay marriage react to a culture at large who will attack and invalidate a dissenting opinion as hateful and bigoted? Almost everyone I know who disagrees is too afraid to say anything to the contrary lest they be verbally assaulted – by Christians and non-Christians. Is it just best to hold to the unpopular truth with as much love and gentleness as we can, and take the inevitable hate that is going to spew our way? Or be silent on the matter and show love and acceptance (without approval)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
– Conscience-Bound
Dear CB,
Within my own Christian community, there are those that were celebrating Friday’s decision, and a number who bore the day with heaviness. The SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage was SIGNIFICANT, for a host of reasons.
The question is: what do you say or do now, if you were hoping the decision would go the other way? Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Take the long view:
I loved Andy Crouch’s advice in this interview. He urges us to take the long view: our culture is in the middle of a long conversation about what it means to be male and female. This decision reflects part of a much longer arc – so we have some thinking to do on that. Here’s Andy’s quote (at length), but I found it so helpful:

Whatever the Supreme Court’s decision, we have to see this as a multi-generational story of our culture trying to negotiate whether there is any significance to our creation as male and female in the image of God. That is not going to turn on a dime, and healthy cultural change actually never happens quickly. It’s worth remembering that Christians — both liberal/progressive and conservative, but especially the modernist Protestants who were then in positions of cultural power — created and sustained the ideology of racism that gained power in the 19th century, advancing the supposedly “scientific” belief, concurrent with the rise of Darwinism, that some races were intrinsically superior to others. And there were plenty of Supreme Court decisions along the way — Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson — that seemed to reinforce that arc of history. It took the better part of a century to reverse that profound insult to the biblical doctrine of the image of God, which was always meant to be expressed in human cultural and ethnic diversity.

If, as I believe, we’re in the midst of an equally mistaken denial of the image of God in human beings as male and female, that is not going to be undone quickly. So any contribution to the discussion about this month’s decision should take the long view. What is our hope for human beings, male and female, several generations from now? What kind of society do we want to leave for our children and our children’s children? The more that our contributions to the conversation can be hopeful — not necessarily optimistic in the short run, but hopeful in the long run — the more chance we have of helping our society turn the corner on these issues.

2. Take it as an opportunity to refocus.

One of my professors at Bible College warned us often that those who taught wrong doctrine were in just as much trouble as those who taught right doctrine, but gave it the wrong emphasis. Christian cults are often guilty of exactly this: teaching true things, but in such disproportion that the net effect is not a faithful witness to the gospel.

I found Ed Cyzewski’s perspective helpful here: he views the SCOTUS decision as a gift to the church: an opportunity for us to recalibrate and, rather than using all our energy on fighting same-sex marriage, to major on the majors according to Jesus in Matthew 25. We have a hurting, bleeding, poor, starving world all around us, with nearly a third of people not yet even having the beginning of a Bible being translated in their language. We have work to do. Prayers to pray. Money to give strategically to Kingdom work. Let’s get busy.

3. Find a way to put it into perspective.

As I’ve said before (here and here, for example), I think that we fail in the realm of sexual ethics on a whole host of fronts. Our world is full of people struggling with pornography, our churches have adulterers and divorcees and who knows how many couples who are sexually active before they are married. Every one of these falls short of what God has said (even though, for example, a couple living together may not think there is anything morally objectionable about their arrangement at all!) And yes, I believe same-sex relationships are a violation of God’s sexual ethic, too.

So, for me it is helpful to see this current crisis in the bigger context: another way in which we need to think deeply about how we talk about sexuality and sex and our bodies, and what Scripture says to these bigger issues. God’s word is good and his truth is freedom – somehow, we need to be better at figure out how to give a vision for God’s good for us in his words on sexuality, and prayerfully seek gracious truth in how we encourage one another towards righteousness in all areas of life, and all areas of sexuality. This article from Karen Swallow Prior on Gay Marriage, Abortion, and the Bigger Picture is a truly excellent example of this.

4. And if you take abuse, turn the other cheek.

It’s okay to be disappointed—heartbroken, even—but don’t be angry. If we are being labeled as  bigot or haters, I think that is a real invitation for us to search our hearts and figure out if there is any truth to those accusations. Have we majored on a minor, or caused “a little one to stumble” in our dealings? If so, we need to apologize for being offensive.

But if you know in your heart that you were not being hateful, that your position is one of sadness and wishing it were different for the sake of others’ well-being, then dear friend: try to turn the other cheek. As one wise counselor once said to me in marriage counseling, “What’s more important here: being right? Or being in relationship?”

Take courage. Jesus is still King and he has given us work to do. Let’s get on with it.

 

12 thoughts on “Ask Me: How Should I Respond to the SCOTUS Decision if I Disagreed?

  1. “It’s okay to be disappointed – heartbroken, even – but don’t be angry.”

    Oh if only the Christians who were “disappointed and heartbroken” over this ruling felt the exact same way about poverty, abused children, and other victims of injustice. Of course a secular government is going to make decisions that are contrary to the bible – the bible even says that God’s laws will differ from man’s law. And Christians are shocked by this? It’s not like the government is forcing all straight couples to divorce and marry someone of their own sex. There are plenty of things that are contrary to God’s laws – prostitution, adultery, pornography – that are legal, and now we can add gay marriage to that list. But none of those things are being forced on anyone’s household.

    It’s perfectly okay to have the conviction that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman only. No one can take that away from you. But if you try to impose your religious values on people who don’t share them by making them into laws, that is bigotry. You can affirm something legally while opposing it morally, because the fact is, gay marriage affects no one except gay couples, their friends, and their families. I know that my heterosexual marriage is just as sacred today as it was a week ago.

    • I agree with so much of what you say, Beth, but do have some thoughts on your statement that “gay marriage affects no one except gay couples, their friends, and their families.” As much as marriage is a personal relationship, I do believe it is not wholly a private one: marriage is an institution—which is to say, it plays a significant role in our societal structure. My and your own personal marriages may not be directly affected by the decision, but Marriage as a bigger concept, and what our communities understand by it, will be. I find it ironic that in the same week that SCOTUS ruled that anyone could choose whom they marry, California voted that parents could not choose to refuse to immunize their children for personal belief exemptions. Some might argue that that, too, is a personal decision which each family should make for themselves, but the Californian government has determined that the impact on others for herd immunity is such that vaccination schedules should be mandatory. The line between personal and public is a very tricky one, indeed.

      • I haven’t read or heard any convincing arguments about how it will damage the structure of society. The way I see it, the couples who were already committed before the ruling now have the same tax benefits, the right to make medical decisions for their partner in the event of a life-threatening emergency, and the ability to legally adopt a partner’s child (and be able to gain custody should anything happen to that partner). Not only that, it might be easier for gay couples to adopt, which sounds abhorrent to some, but I don’t see how foster care is a better alternative to being raised by two loving parents, regardless of gender. It’s hypocritical to say gay couples aren’t ideal parents when there are plenty of single people using surrogates and sperm banks to have children by themselves. There are plenty of things I’m worried about that can cause the downfall of this country, and gay marriage is at the very bottom of that list.

      • Entirely agree that marriages affect institutions. A friend of mine commented “If you’re against gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person.” I think that’s easier said than done in our conservative circles. See my comment below.

  2. Excellent treatise. Thank you for this.

    The question I have now is exactly where, in the legal framework, is polygamy? I have a feeling that SCOTUS has opened a box that they will not soon be able to close.

    • Thanks, Andrew. And yes, it’s a slippery slope. Why should a brother and sister not be allowed to marry? Or a brother and many sisters? The majority judges’ reasoning have taken a significant step down that slide.

      • I often hear people express concern over the “slippery slope” that they feel we are tumbling down. First, I honestly believe it’s an overreaction to think that people will suddenly have the urge to start marrying siblings because of this ruling. Second, I don’t actually care if a brother and sister or many of them marry each other (reproducing is another issue), and I don’t see why that is a controversial position to hold. If everyone directly involved is down with it (and legal), then who exactly is the victim? Why should someone completely UNinvolved in the matter get a say in the personal matters of someone else?

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  4. I’m just very ambivalent about the SCOTUS decision. My concern about how this decision will affect Christian marriages is that more Christian marriages than most imagine are between a heterosexual Christian (usually a woman) and a Christian man who identifies as homosexual or transgender. The gay or trans person is living in the closet — sometimes closeted even from himself — until something pushes the door open a crack. I think SCOTUS is going to do this. We’ll see a lot of “Living Waters” marriages fall apart and some number of African-American church leaders’ marriages as well. The question then will be how ready we’ll be to care for the abandoned spouses. Being left for “the other woman” is terrible and we don’t handle it very well. Being left for “another man” or to become “another woman” are almost unimaginable. But they’re going to happen in our churches. I don’t think we are vaguely prepared.

  5. I think you’ve given good advice, Bronwyn. While I like Andy Crouch’s idea of taking the long view, for many people in the wedding industry (photographers and the like), that may not be easy. They’ll have to decide (and quickly) what stance to take and how to handle the same sex couples who want their services in their ceremonies/receptions. For some, that may mean choosing between discriminating against same sex couples and being in violation of their own conscience. It may also mean being disciplined by their conservative church leadership, too. Those leaders will have to make a decision as well: discipline a church member trying to do their secular job or letting it go and having the decision interpreted as implicit approval of same sex marriage. (I can see my church leaders have an issue in this regard.) It’s a sticky situation for many, many people.

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