All great civilizations believe in moral boundaries. In fact if you think about it, boundaries serve an important purpose in all of life. Fences keep out trespassers and protect children on playgrounds. Governments impose speed limits. Lines define a football field.
However, a growing number of people do not believe in restraining certain moral behaviors, particularly as it relates to human sexuality. Author Ravi Zacharias says:
There is no creative impulse or end result in life that provides for limitless possibilities without some parameters. In the fragile path of living, where relationships intersect and passions collide, God in his wisdom has provided fences, walls, and boundaries for our well-being that we might not stray into terrain that destroys the very essence for which we were made. And it is these fences and walls that are coming down today with thundering force.
Historically, in almost every civilization that has ever existed, homosexual behavior was considered unnatural. The underlying belief was that God designed the male and female bodies for heterosexual relations within the confines of marriage. In other words, the marital relationship is sacred. When you consider the design of the human body, sex between two males or two females does not work. The parts don’t fit.
In the United States, at least for most of our history, sodomy was illegal and gay marriage was unlawful in every state. But because of last month’s Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, gay marriage is now legal in all fifty states, and homosexual behavior is becoming increasingly recognized as a normal lifestyle.
So in today’s blog post, I want to focus briefly on how this dramatic shift came about.
I contend that it is because our views of divine revelation and moral authority have radically changed. Since this country’s founding, the Judeo-Christian view of morality has been the predominant, overarching authority. This view argues that moral truth is an objective, outer reality, revealed by God, and we are called to submit our lives to it. These morals are true for all people, in all places, and at all times. Since our country’s founding, marriage has been defined as being between a man and a woman. In the New Testament, Jesus gave a very clear definition of marriage:
Have you not read that He who created them male and female from the beginning made them male and female, and for this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Matthew 19: 4,5)
But then a shift began to occur. Many would point to the 1960’s, but I would go back even further to the 1920’s as people began to search for a more immediate and more directly accessible source of truth. It was a truth located within the individual, and not in some ancient sacred book like the Bible. The modern way was to find a method that could be used by each individual to discover what is moral.
Divine revelation as our source for moral authority has been replaced by the autonomous self. Under the new paradigm, one must look within one’s heart and consider what he or she feels or desires. Each person develops his own moral truth, and just because it is true for me, it might not be true for you. Moral truth is now discovered in the subjective realm.
It is interesting to see how this type of thinking has infiltrated the views of a majority of the justices in our current Supreme Court. Back in 1992 when the Supreme Court was deciding a case regarding access to abortion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of life.” In essence he was saying that each of us has the right to define our own truth; God’s divine moral authority is irrelevant.
In writing for the majority opinion in Obergefell, Justice Kennedy’s view of liberty clearly prevailed.
It has now been over two weeks since this judgment by the Supreme Court was handed down. I keep wondering how this will play out in the future of our country. Historically, when people flagrantly defy God’s moral law, there is a price to pay. In fact, God makes it clear in the book of Galatians that He will not be mocked, and a reaping will take place based on what we have sown. I say this not out of anger or with a sense of retribution, but with the knowledge that this is true. I have seen it play out in people’s lives.
To conclude this blog post, read these affirming words as recently published in The Washington Post. They are written by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention:
The church will need in the years ahead to articulate what we believe about marriage; we cannot assume that people agree with us, or even understand us. Let’s not simply talk about marriage in terms of values or culture or human flourishing. Let’s talk about marriage the way that Jesus and his apostles taught to us – as bound up with the gospel itself, a picture of the union of Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:32).
As we do so, we must not just articulate our views of marriage, we must embody a gospel marriage culture. We have done a poor job of that in the past. Too many of our marriages have been ravaged by divorce.
We must repent of our failings and picture to the world what marriage is meant to be, and keep the light lit to the old paths.
This gives the church an opportunity to do what Jesus called us to do with our marriages in the first place: to serve as a light in a dark place. Permanent, stable marriages with families with both a mother and a father may well make us seem freakish in 21st-century culture.
We should not fear that. We believe stranger things than that. We believe a previously dead man is alive, and he will show up in the Eastern skies on a horse. We believe that the gospel can forgive sinners like us and make us sons and daughters. Let’s embrace the sort of freakishness that saves.
Let’s also recognize that if we’re right about marriage, and I believe we are, many people will be disappointed in getting what they want. Many of our neighbors believe that a redefined concept of marriage will simply expand the institution (and, let’s be honest, many will want it to keep on expanding). This will not do so, because sexual complementarity is not ancillary to marriage. The church must prepare for the refugees from the sexual revolution.
We must prepare for those, like the sexually wayward Woman at the Well of Samaria, who will be thirsting for water which they don’t even know.
There are two sorts of churches that will not be able to reach the sexual revolution’s refugees. A church that has given up on the truth of the Scriptures, including on marriage and sexuality, and has nothing to say to a fallen world. And a church that screams with outrage at those who disagree will have nothing to say to those who are looking for a new birth.
We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does – with mercy and with an invitation to new life.
Some Christians will be tempted to anger, lashing out at the world around us with a narrative of decline. That temptation is wrong. God decided when we would be born, and when we would be born again. We have the Spirit and the gospel. To think that we deserve to live in different times is to tell God that we deserve a better mission field than the one he has given us. Let’s joyfully march to Zion.
The witness to marriage will be, like the pro-life movement, a long-term strategy that is multi-pronged. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. We see that we are strangers and exiles in American culture. We are on the wrong side of history, just like we started. We should have been all along.
Let’s seek the kingdom. Let’s stand with the gospel. Let’s fear our God. But let’s not fear our mission field.