A church in Raleigh, NC, is gearing up for a vote on November 20 to decide if it will stop holding “state-sanctioned marriages” on their property. According to an article in Raleigh’s News & Observer, the deacon council at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church drafted a marriage equality statement in response to pastor Nancy Petty’s conscientious objection to endorsing marriages involving a state license for heterosexual couples while the state forbids same-sex marriage. Brooks Wicker, the co-chair of the deacon council stated,
For us, it’s very much a civil rights issue. It’s in keeping with our tradition of trying to live into the gospel, treating everyone justly and fairly.
On Nov 20, the congregation will hold a vote to determine the future of marriage ceremonies at the church. While this may seem unusual, Pullen Memorial is no stranger to the unusual in Baptist life. The church began embracing the “social gospel” and ecumenism in the 1930’s. In 1950, Harry Emerson Fosdick delivered the dedication sermon for their new sanctuary. In 1992, the church endorsed “unqualified acceptance” of gay and lesbian members. This move ultimately led to their ouster from the Raleigh Baptist Association, Baptist State Convention of NC, and Southern Baptist Convention.
Now the church stands on the cusp of eliminating marriage ceremonies for the foreseeable future from their practice. Petty, a self-professed lesbian, told the congregation that endorsing state-sanctioned marriages for heterosexuals was a burden on her conscience, and the church responded by bringing it up for a vote.
The real question here is whether or not God gets a vote in this matter. Wicker noted that he believed it was in keeping with the church’s tradition of living “into the gospel,” but I believe he has the direction wrong. It appears that “living into the gospel” is a way of adding cultural biases to the gospel. He sees gay-marriage as a civil right that needs to be affirmed by the gospel and that our lives change the gospel. However, Scripture suggests that we need the gospel to live in us and allow it to change us. Rather than living into the gospel, I want the gospel to live in me.
So what should we make of this vote? I think it is fairly clear from their history and current trajectory that Pullen Memorial will vote to cease all marriages until same-sex marriage is legalized by the state of NC. The unfortunate part of the vote is that a church will most likely vote contrary to Scripture. From the institution of the first marriage in Genesis 2, God has made it clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. In Genesis 2:22–24, we read:
The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
Throughout the rest of Scripture, every reference to marriage is always between a man and a woman. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, homosexual activity is clearly condemned (called an abomination), and that condemnation is repeated in Romans 1:24–32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. Scripture makes it very clear that homosexual activity is against nature and against God’s intended design. Attempting to dignify it by placing the label of “marriage” on it simply flies in the face of what God intended for marriage as well.
So will God get a vote at Pullen Memorial? Let’s think about this—theology is not governed by democracy. Majority vote does not decide what truth is. God gets the only vote that matters, and he has already cast the deciding vote on this issue. Marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman. It is designed to last a lifetime. No church vote can change that. If Pullen Memorial wants to be on the side of God, they will change their stand on homosexual marriage. If they don’t, then they aren’t really attempting to be a church in submission to Christ and his Word. They might as well change their name to Pullen Memorial Social Club.
Josh Shaffer, “Church puts civil marriage rites to vote,” News & Observer, November 11, 2011.
I would like to thank my friend, Randy Mann, for bringing this article to my attention. Check out his website at www.randymann.net.