A Pastoral Response to the SCOTUS Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

As lead pastor for Creekstone Church, I would like to provide some perspective for our faith community on how I am processing the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-gender marriage. Regardless of your present position on the issue, please read to the end, knowing that there is so much more I would like to say. I trust that this post is by no means the final word from Creekstone on the subject, but only a beginning—the opening of a long conversation that I pray will lead us all into a greater understanding of God’s truth and grace.  So, if you are a Christian who has questions, or are gay or lesbian and want to dialogue further, please let me know. Even though I do not have all the answers, I do look forward to listening to your questions and engaging with your feedback.

  1. As Augustine made clear in The City of God, Christians are citizens of two distinct kingdoms: an earthly citizenship (in the city of man) and an heavenly citizenship (in the city, or Kingdom, of God). As citizens of an earthly city/nation/country, Christians seek to be the best citizens they can be. We work, pay taxes, obey laws, coach little league, teach in schools, create works of art, develop helpful technology, practice medicine, engage in the legal process, volunteer and engage in the political process by voting for elected representatives who serve the citizens in the city of man. We want to be a blessing to our broader culture. Sometimes the citizens of heaven run for office in the city of man, not to force God’s kingdom on the city of man, but to influence the city of man for good as citizens of heaven. Citizens of the kingdom of God would do well to recognize their dual citizenship, and not to expect their earthly government always to mirror the government of heaven.
  2. The church, whose members are such only by the grace of God in Jesus, is the visible, organized, outward manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the city of man. As a separate nation within a nation, so to speak, the church does not necessarily expect the city of man to adopt or agree with the ways, will and wisdom of God’s kingdom. Therefore, we do not expect the laws of our earthly governments to perfectly conform to the heavenly government. Rather, we actually should anticipate signifiant push-back. To go one step further, we should expect our earthly governments to be significantly influenced by the cultural ethos (the common, popular worldview) of the day, which in ours is largely determined by news media and entertainment mediums such as TV, internet, music, film, etc. While pollsters tell us that views regarding sexual ethics, and gay marriage in particular, have shifted in dramatic ways over the past twenty-five to forty years (a simple Google search will confirm this), a majority of Americans now support gay men and women being afforded the right to marry. In fact, before the SCOTUS decision, 37 states already allowed gay marriage. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s decision does not surprise me.
  3. As a separate kingdom, the church operates under the Bible as her ultimate authority (our ultimate “Constitution” for the city of God)—a document that centers its message on the grace of God to sinners in the person and work of Jesus. This document, the Bible, can be boiled down to two words: law and gospel. The law reveals how we fail to conform to the ways, will and wisdom of God while the gospel reveals how God has dealt with our failure through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (he lived in our place, died to serve our judicial sentence of guilt before God’s law, and was raised that we also would be raised, and live now in the power of the risen Christ indwelling his people by his Holy Spirit). The law was given to show every human our need for God’s grace in Jesus, not as a measuring stick by which we could justify ourselves over against the sin of someone else. As Paul says in Romans, we all fall short.
  4. This means that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Every human stands in equal need of the redemptive grace of God in Jesus, regardless of our sexual orientation. There is no room for self-righteous pride in the life of a disciple of Jesus.
  5. As a result, Creekstone is a church that welcomes all people, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, to gather and hear, believe and celebrate the liberating message of the gospel—a message that tells us we are not reconciled to God by our obedience and sacrifice, but by the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus as our life and death substitute. All people, without discrimination, are invited to participate in our Sunday gatherings, our home fellowship groups, social events and special programs.
  6. However, actual membership in the church is limited to those who acknowledge their need for grace and mercy and subsequently confess/repent before the kindness of God, fully expecting to receive the immeasurable grace that is promised in the gospel. The church is not a group of good people, but a fellowship of repentant sinners who live by grace as fully forgiven, perfectly accepted and eternally loved adopted sons and daughters of God.
  7. Now, when the Bible speaks of sin, it refers to any rejection of God’s ways, will or wisdom, where we dismiss God’s moral design as put ourselves in the place of authority over his Word, the Bible. This applies not only to homosexual sin, but also heterosexual sin.
  8. And yet when we address the issue of sin, sexual or otherwise, we must do so with Paul’s admonition to “speak the truth in love.”  According to the Bible, truth (whether the truth about physics, chemistry or morality) is not something we determine, but something that we recognize is outside of us—something not devised by human reason, but either is discovered by scientific research (the unchangeable laws of physics for example) or received by divine revelation (the unchangeable laws of human design and morality). And yet that truth often runs contrary to our human practices and preferences. This is when truth becomes a hard pill to swallow for many of us. So, when we speak of truth in love, we must recognize that it is possible to speak the truth without love (like many conservatives) or love without truth (like many liberals). Yet Creekstone does not classify itself as either conservative or liberal, but as evangelical, a designation that comes from the Greek word evangelion, which when translated, means “gospel,” or “good news.” The true evangelical (not the politicized version you hear about on TV or on the internet, but the one who centers their worldview on the message of God’s grace in Jesus), is willing to confidently speak the truth, but in humility with a heart of  empathy, compassion, grace, mercy and love, rather than a heart filled with hate and self-righteousness.  In other words, we want to speak to other sinners the way Jesus speaks to us as sinners—with words of truth and grace, invitation and reconciliation.
  9. Therefore, truth spoken in love insists that we affirm God’s design for marriage clearly, yet with the utmost humility. So, to be clear, just as fish have been designed to live in the water, not on land, men and women have been created for sexual intimacy within the context of marriage—a covenant relationship that has been designed for one man and one woman. Nevertheless, to opponents of this position, forbidding sexual expression outside of God’s design seems archaic and bigoted to our modern experience and progressive desires. However, truth tells us that male-female only marriage is the revealed wisdom of the Designer. Consequently, as a result of our submission to the Bible as our authority, it is with the deepest humility that Creekstone is obligated to refrain from officiating same-gender marriages.
  10. At the end of the day, love reminds us that this is a uniquely emotional topic for many, especially those with an honest attraction to men or women of the same gender.  Our desire is that, even if we disagree on this issue, our gay friends will remain our friends and join us in pursuing an understanding of the core teaching of the Bible that focuses on the person of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. And then, if he is who he says he is, we can deal with the moral implications of what it means for him not only to be our Savior, but also our Lord. As we say all of the time, changing our lifestyles does not get us into or keep us in the kingdom of God. It is the grace of the King, Jesus, who gets us in and keeps us in, thus giving us a new motive and power for conforming our lifestyles to his ways, will and wisdom—all because of his grace, for our good, and ultimately, for his glory.

While the law of the land has changed, nothing will change with how Creekstone does life and ministry. In fact, on this note, I really like how Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Newwark, Delaware has responded to the high court’s ruling. Here is a summary of their statement, which I find temperate, grace-filled and helpful:

  1. We will continue to be a church that preaches the gospel clearly and the whole counsel of God regularly. We will continue to be one of the friendliest churches you have ever visited regardless of your background.
  2. We will continue to provide spaces in our church (like Christianity Explored on Sunday Morning and MOPS on Friday) where people from all lifestyles and walks of life can come, be loved, ask their questions, and learn about the gospel.  We will seek to create more spaces like this in the future.
  3. We will continue the ministry of Divorce Care.  In the future, a person from a broken same sex union may seek healing community in our Divorce Care ministry. They will be received with the love of Christ.
  4. Your pastors will continue the relationships that we currently have (that’s right, we currently have these relationships) with people from the LGBT community, seeking to show the love of Christ and share the gospel of Christ.
  5. We will not be angry or out of sorts about the culture because we know that Jesus reigns, that he has placed us here in this time for this people, and that he will watch over us. (That doesn’t mean that it will be easy.  But it does mean that we can have confidence that He will be at work for our good in all that we face.)
  6. At times, we will have to tell people that we cannot officiate their marriage ceremony because their marriage would be contrary to Scripture.  We will lovingly counsel them toward Jesus.  If this couple happens to be a same sex couple then we won’t be being inconsistent because we have told heterosexual couples the same thing on more than one occasion.
  7. We will not make the mistake of seeing every person seeking to find fulfillment in a same sex relationship as an activist who wants us to lose our tax exempt status and wants our ministry to fail.  There are those people, but they are not the majority. Most LGBT people are busy with their lives and seeking love and fulfillment like everybody else.
  8. We will continue to hold out the truth of Scripture with regard to God’s design for human flourishing.  We will never tire of holding out the grace of the gospel for those who have sinned in same sex relationships just as we do not tire of extending the grace of the gospel for those who sin in heterosexual relationships.
  9. We will teach our young people about sexuality from a Biblical perspective.  We won’t dodge the hard questions or issues.  We won’t be prudish from the pulpit, but we won’t be salacious either.  We will equip a generation of Christ followers who knows what the Bible says about sexuality and human flourishing.
  10. We will be mindful of the log in our own marriage eye before pouncing on the speck in the culture’s marriage eye.  Such mindfulness doesn’t mean that we don’t herald God’s design for human flourishing, but it does mean that we herald it as broken vessels, not self-righteous judges.
  11. We won’t promise an easy fix to sexual struggle of any kind, but will call all people to follow Christ fully and trust him to endure the challenges that come their way in dependence upon the Holy Spirit.  We will seek to model this type of discipleship (see #9 again).  We will seek to provide loving community.
  12. We won’t be naive: faithfulness may demand a cost from us.  But we won’t be looking to prove a point either.  If we bear a cost it will come from lovingly following Jesus and being faithful to His Word.
  13. We will fail at 1 through 12 above, but we will repent.