Homosexual Marriage: A Watershed Issue for Evangelicals

(Family Research Council)Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council.

There is a point where decision on contentious, difficult issues is unavoidable. With respect to homosexual conduct, the American Evangelical church has reached that point.

There is no ignoring the determination of the gay and lesbian activists to insist upon complete social and legal normalization of homosexual conduct; from the adoption of children by same-sex couples to the judicial recognition of same-sex unions as marriages every bit as complete as those enjoyed by heterosexual couples. Thus, Christians cannot avoid the need to decide which side they are on.

The Supreme Court's decision earlier this month to allow current judicial rulings on same-sex marriage to stand is not the final blow to natural marriage some believe it is, but it does give the issue new and unavoidable prominence.

Fidelity to scriptural teaching on human sexuality has become, for believing Christians, a watershed issue. Issues involving same-sex marriage and homosexual behavior are for today's Evangelical community what the inerrancy debate was in the late 1970s.

Even as Evangelicals gently but firmly speak the truth about God's teaching regarding human sexual conduct, they need to extend the mercy of Christ to the homosexual men and women God brings into their lives. If Evangelicals have homosexual neighbors, they need to treat them with the same warmth and respect they should treat anyone else. If their kids become friends with children raised by same-sex couples, those little ones should be welcomed as eagerly as any other child. If one's homosexual colleague is in the hospital, visit him, do his yard work, drive him home, and so on.

AIDs clinics should be the haunts of Jesus-followers. Friendships with gays and lesbians should be welcomed, not spurned. Participation in one another's lives should be frequent. Put simply, showing the love of Christ to all men must include those identifying as gay and lesbian, with the recognition Christian kindness is not synonymous with endorsement of a lifestyle.

Yet law and public policy are different matters. Just as water does not collect atop an apex - it flows down one side or the other - so there are only two sides to the debate over legal recognition of same-sex marriage. As theologian Al Mohler has written, "The issue (of same-sex marriage) is now inescapable for every congregation, every denomination, every seminary, and every Christian organization. The question will be asked and some answer will be given. When the question is asked, any answer that is not completely consistent with the church's historical understanding of sexual morality and the full affirmation of biblical authority will mean a full embrace of same-sex behaviors and same-sex relationships. There is no third way, and there never was" (http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/09/24/homosexuality-as-dividing-line-the-inescapable-issue/).

Those who uphold natural marriage must present their case with compassion, graciousness, and respect. But they must present it. To be silent is to acquiesce, even to endorse. And believing Christians can never jettison the unmistakable biblical teaching that marriage is the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life. The definition cannot be expanded or qualified or nuanced or truncated.

In very practical terms, Christians cannot faithfully endorse same-sex unions as honoring to God. They cannot allow same-sex "weddings" in their churches or on church property. Their pastors must refuse to perform such unions anywhere. And churches may not accept as members people who are married to someone of the same sex or living in a sexually cohabiting relationship with one another (any more than they can accept as members sexually cohabiting heterosexual couples or anyone else walking in disobedience to biblical teachings). If government seeks to compel Evangelicals to do any of these things, they must obey God and not men (Acts 5:29).

Given that many professing Evangelicals don't understand or want to accept what the Bible teaches about marriage, human sexuality and sexually intimate conduct will be divisive in some churches. Names will be called, labels attached, and motives aspersed. Both misunderstanding of and deliberate rebellion to biblical dictates will occur.

These things are disturbing to contemplate, but there are other, worse things, such as defiance to a self-revealing God Whose standards are neither unclear nor malleable. If in standing for truth under the canopy of love faithful believers are attacked by other professing Christians, so be it.

We must say that with courage but not anger. But say it, and live it, we must if we are to walk worthily of the Crucified One.

Rob Schwarzwalder, Senior Vice-President of the Family Research Council, was a presidential appointee in the George W. Bush administration chief-of-staff for two Members of Congress. He is a longtime member of the Evangelical Theological Society."