Bending Gender Norms: Why the Narrative Is Not So Unified

If you are like me, your news feeds on social media have been overwhelmed by the Jenner transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Everyone has an opinion, and no one seems to agree on how to address it. The range of responses runs the gamut from ESPN deciding to give Jenner their Arthur Ashe Courage Award to some describing Jenner’s transformation as evidence of mental illness (and then pretty much every possible response in between). My goal here is not to address the Jenner story directly but to expose the underlying narrative of the cultural conversation. That underlying narrative is the not-so-unified agenda within the LGBT movement.

Many Americans see the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) movement as a unified whole marching toward an end-goal of equality, acceptance, and significance within society.1 The four letters used to describe the coalition flow off the tongues and through the keyboards of activists and dissenters alike. However, not everything  is as unified as some may portray. Is the narrative of the LGBT movement really a unified whole, or are there underlying differences between factions in the group? Is there a unified political goal to be achieved that hides a schism below the surface? Such questions are beginning to be asked, and Christians contending for truth need to be aware of fissures within the LGBT movement.

What rests beneath the surface is a conflict of narratives between the LG’s (Lesbians and Gays) and the BT’s (Bisexuals and Transgenders). Jillian Todd Weiss acknowledges this division when she observes,

While many gays and lesbians feel that ‘bisexual’ and ‘transgender’ are simply names for part of their community, others actively reject the idea that bisexuals and trans- genders are part of their community, seeing them as entirely separate and distinct. Heterosexism against bisexuals and transgenders exists not only in the straight community, but in the gay and lesbian community as well. Some feel, as we shall see, that bisexuality and transgenderism are detrimental to the social and political acceptance of gays and lesbians.2

The divisions between LG’s and BT’s are clearest on the issues of gender and marriage. This essay will sketch out the typical, public LGBT narrative on gender and marriage and then demonstrate some of the divisions that undermine the public agenda of the LGBT movement. In doing so, we will see that this coalition of convenience may rupture unless one of the two groups is willing to shift its narrative to appease the other.

THE GENDER NARRATIVE

The supposedly unified LGBT agenda attempts to remove any distinction among genders, particularly for roles in relationships, ability in the workforce, and cultural stereotypes. There is a commitment to pure egalitarianism whereby no specific gender has a unique role or function. This is crucial especially for homosexuality because the nature of their relationships require no gender differences. When two women or two men enter into an intimate relationship, any gender roles they express must be socially constructed rather than biologically determined. Thus, one of the points of the LGBT narrative is that gender has no real impact on roles. Supporters of the LGBT movement who also claim to write from a Christian perspective have picked up on this and even point out the inconsistency of Christian egalitarians for dismissing specific gender roles in heterosexual couples as unbiblical while still holding to anatomical differences for a proper understanding of sexual intercourse.3

An added aspect to the LGBT narrative regarding gender is the idea that any gender roles evident in society are the result of outdated cultural stereotypes. These stereotypes have been carried along from days of yore by older generations, but the LGBT movement  calls on the younger generation to jettison such distinctions between male and female for the sake of gender equality. They demand equality without distinction. They want culture to be “gender blind.” While these calls for gender equality have some merit—because it is important to acknowledge there have existed and still exist women who are oppressed—the current push for gender equality goes much further than a desire for equal rights or equal pay. The LGBT agenda demands that there be no distinction made on the basis of gender for anything—public  facilities, athletic competition, and even marriage. The LGBT position on gender appears to be the epitome of egalitarianism. But is it consistent?

CHANGING GENDER REINFORCES  STEREOTYPES

The often-forgotten quadrant of the LGBT movement is the ‘T’—transgendered  individuals who sometimes face the scorn and opposition of the more mainstream lesbians and gays. Even though some may find it odd that there is division in the ranks of this powerful movement, there is good reason for division. Transgenderism undermines the public gender narrative that has been successfully promoted in the culture.

Susannah Cornwall describes transgender people as those “who feel that their gender identity, or sense of being a gendered self, doesn’t ‘fit’ their biological sex according  to the usual pattern.”4 As a result of this conflict of identity, transgender individuals take various measures to conform to their sense of gender. This can include anything from dressing in styles typical of the opposite gender, taking hormones to change hair growth and voice, or even include the radical measure of gender reassignment surgery to change their genitals to match their sense of gender. In June 2014 Time released a magazine issue with the cover story headline: “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” In the article, Katy Steinmetz follows the lives of several people who have made the transition from the gender with which they were born to the opposite gender. In each case, however, the transgendered individual took steps to conform to the cultural norms of male or female. In no example did the author attempt to demonstrate how transgendered individuals sought to lose all gender identification.5

The problem with such behavior for the LGBT movement  is that changing appearance or physical features conforms to stereotypical gender norms that the LGBT movement publicly dismisses as unimportant. Thus, it should come as no surprise that there is a competing narrative within the LGBT community regarding gender. The public narrative calls on society to erase gender distinctions and make gender a cultural artifact. At the same time, transgendered  individuals seek to conform to cultural stereotypes of dress, appearance, voice pitch, and sometimes even sexual complementarity.  Such conformity undermines the public narrative on gender. However, as Weiss notes,

The difference between ‘homosexual’ and ‘GLBT’ is elusive to many Americans. . . . Many are unaware of any significant distinction between ‘GLBT’ and ‘homosexual.’ Yet within the GLBT population itself, these distinctions mark intense personal and political struggles. The divisions between gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender are far deeper and more significant to each other than to those outside.6

For those of us pursuing a biblical understanding of gender, we can actually take note of the division within the LGBT movement to emphasize our perspective. While we do not condone the lifestyle of transgendered individuals, we recognize that they have a glimpse of the truth that gays and lesbians have sought to eradicate. The underlying goal of transgendered  individuals  is to pursue the unique gender distinctions of either male or female. The problem is that they deny their own biological gender to do so. Thus, they see the beauty of gender distinctions, but they deny the gender they were born to be. Gender distinction  is part of what God has revealed to us in nature about how he created mankind (Gen 1:27; cf. Rom 1:18–32); however, the specific way that transgendered individuals pursue such distinctions  is still corrupted by the fall. Even in sin, we sometimes get a glimpse of the truth.

A CALL TO BIBLICAL SEXUALITY

The LGBT movement is not as unified as the public face of the community would have us to believe. There are major divisions and inequalities in the movement that typically rest below the surface of what most people in our culture see. However, the divisions are real, and they threaten the strength of the movement if they ever come to the surface.

Even though the focus of this essay has been to expose the fissures in the LGBT movement, I want to end with a call back to biblical sexuality. Genesis 1–2 gives us a clear picture of God’s design for sexuality from the beginning. In Genesis 1:27 we read, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them.” From the outset, God created two genders—male and female. Every example of godly sexual expression we see from that point forward in Scripture comes through the union of a man and woman in marriage. Genesis 2:24 tells us, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” When Jesus discusses marriage and sexuality in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, he appeals to these two foundational verses in Genesis. When Paul talks about marriage in Ephesians 5, he also appeals to the complementary nature of man and woman and points back to Genesis 2:24 as the key text.

Monogamous,  heterosexual marriage is commended, and even celebrated,  as the biblical expression of sexuality. All departures from this standard are considered acquiescence to the sinful, fallen nature of mankind. Thus, we do not point out the conflict in the LGBT movement as an end in itself, but we do so for the purpose of calling everyone caught up in sexual sin back to God’s plan for sexuality. We should be reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 after he pointed out a number of sins—including some of a sexual nature—in the church at Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

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1. As it stands today in the ever-evolving world of queer studies, LGBT is an outdated acronym. As Allen Metcalf observes in a recent article in The Chronicle for Higher Education, the alphabet soup of queer studies now includes queer and questioning, unidentified, intersex, asexual, and genderqueer, resulting in a new acronym: LGBTQQ2IA (Allen Metcalf, “LGBTQQ2IA,” Lingua Franca, August 19, 2014, accessed October 24, 2014, http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafran- ca/2014/08/19/lgbtqq2ia/). For the purpose of this article we will simply focus on the first four classifications.

2. Jillian Todd Weiss, “GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community,” in Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InsterSEXions of the Others, ed. Jonathan Alexander and Karen Yescavage; (New York: Rutledge, 2012), 29.

3. Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian (New York: Convergent, 2014), 27–28.

4. Susannah Cornwall, Theology and Sexuality (London: SCM Press, 2013), 47.

5. Katy Steinmetz, “America’s Transition,” Time, 9 June 2014, 38–46.

6. Weiss, “GL vs. BT,” 29.

*This post is part of a larger essay that was published in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. They subsequently posted the essay in its entirety on their blog as a response to the recent news about Bruce Jenner. You can read the entire essay here.

New Essay in Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

The editors for the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood were kind enough to publish an essay of mine in the latest issue of the journal. The main focus of this issue is sexual identity; however, there are some articles and essay that address other topics as well.

My essay is entitled “The Not-So-Unified Narrative of the LGBT Movement.” Here is an excerpt:

Many Americans see the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) movement as a unified whole marching toward an end-goal of equality, acceptance, and significance within society.1 The four letters used to describe the coalition flow off the tongues and through the keyboards of activists and dissenters alike. However, not everything  is as unified as some may portray. Is the narrative of the LGBT movement really a unified whole, or are there underlying differences between factions in the group? Is there a unified political goal to be achieved that hides a schism below the surface? Such questions are beginning to be asked, and Christians contending for truth need to be aware of fissures within the LGBT movement.

What rests beneath the surface is a conflict of narratives between the LG’s (Lesbians and Gays) and the BT’s (Bisexuals and Transgenders).

Because the divisions between LG’s and BT’s are clearest on the issues of gender and marriage, this essay will sketch out the typical, public LGBT narrative on gender and marriage and then demonstrate how bisexuals and transgendered people undermine the public agenda of the LGBT movement. In doing so, we will see that this coalition of convenience may rupture unless one of the two groups is willing to shift its narrative to appease the other.

My essay concludes by stating:

Even though the focus of this essay has been to expose the fissures in the LGBT movement, I want to end with a call back to biblical sexuality. Genesis 1–2 gives us a clear picture of God’s design for sexuality from the beginning. In Genesis 1:27 we read, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them.” From the outset, God created two genders—male and female. Every example of godly sexual expression we see from that point forward in Scripture comes through the union of a man and woman in marriage. Genesis 2:24 tells us, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” When Jesus discusses marriage and sexuality in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, he appeals to these two foundational verses in Genesis. When Paul talks about marriage in Ephesians 5, he also appeals to the complementary nature of man and woman and points back to Genesis 2:24 as the key text.

Monogamous,  heterosexual marriage is commended, and even celebrated,  as the biblical expression of sexuality. All departures from this standard are considered acquiescence to the sinful, fallen nature of mankind. Thus, we do not point out the conflict in the LGBT movement as an end in itself, but we do so for the purpose of calling everyone caught up in sexual sin back to God’s plan for sexual- ity. We should be reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 after he pointed out a number of sins—including some of a sexual nature—in the church at Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

If you would like to read the entire essay, you can find it here. A PDF copy is also available here.

Facilities Policies: Changing Your Church’s Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsThis is the fourth installment of a multi-part series addressing why churches need to consider updating their organizational documents. The series is written in conjunction with Waylan Owens. This post is Part 4 and was written by Dr. Owens, originally appearing here. For the first three parts are “There’s No Time Like the Present,” “We Believe…,” and “Wedding Policies.”

Many years ago, I (Waylan) attended my first wedding in a Roman Catholic church. Though not my first visit to a Catholic church, the wedding has lasted in my memory and still forms one of the bases of my experiential understanding of Catholicism.

When I pass by church buildings, I look for a sign. Then I think to myself, “That is a Baptist church” (or a Methodist church or a Catholic church, according to the message on the sign). Now I know that no denomination believes that its buildings are the church. Yet when I see a building or walk inside, I still think to myself, “So this is ‘Such and Such’ Church.”

And I attribute to that church whatever I see happening in and around the buildings. If I know that the Boy Scouts meet in the church buildings, I assume the church endorses the Boy Scouts. If I see the buildings used for the feeding of the homeless, I assume the church is benevolent, even though none of the members might participate in the ministry. If I see a wedding involving a couple of two men or two women, I do not think, “Oh, someone must have borrowed the building.” I think, “This church must approve of homosexual marriage.”

I am not unusual in this regard. This is a normal way of thinking for people, and for most non-members, the buildings of a church are the most consistent witness of the church. Because of this, it is vital for churches both to have policies for the use of its facilities and to be intentional in keeping them.

The Alliance Defending Freedom observes, “Put simply, a church has a right to only allow uses of its facilities that are consistent with its religious beliefs and to deny all other uses.” Notice that the key is that the facilities are used in ways that are consistent with religious beliefs only. ADF continues, “The best way to protect your church is to adopt a facility usage policy that outlines the religious nature of the church buildings and restricts usage of the facility to uses that are consistent with the church’s biblical beliefs.”[1]

To protect their witness and to simplify things, some churches have held to a policy that only church members may use church facilities. However, what happens when a church member, perhaps one on the church’s membership list but who has not attended church in years, decides to use the church facilities for events outside the church’s beliefs or in ways inconsistent with the church’s witness? What if an active member accesses the hall on behalf of someone else, a friend or a relative, who then uses it in such ways? Does every church member agree with every position of the church, or could a member who disagrees on some point knowingly use the facilities in ways of which the church body would not approve?

These questions and others beckon local churches to state clear facilities policies in writing. From our vantage point, we believe facilities policies should focus on, at least, four points:

  1. Church facilities have been dedicated to God and are to be used in concert with, and not outside of, the teachings and truths of His Word and His Great Commission as understood by the church.
  2. Church facilities give witness to the community of the church’s priorities, biblical beliefs, and moral standards, so no activities or use of the facilities should occur that are in any way contrary to the church’s biblical beliefs and standards.
  3. Church facilities are owned by the church and are not public accommodations and, therefore, give no implied right to anyone, including church members, to use except by express permission of the church.
  4. The authority to grant use of the facilities is vested in one group or committee. This group could consist of three to five of the most mature and trustworthy members who agree with and have a history of adhering to the church’s beliefs and moral standards. A church might allow one person to make these decisions, but this is a great responsibility that requires wisdom and accountability to the church. A church might set the congregation as the decision-maker, but this could be quite cumbersome, and it could keep the congregation’s focus off other urgent matters like the Great Commission.

A thorough facilities policy is a practical benefit, but given recent court rulings, a policy might become more of a legal necessity, it seems. We are not attorneys and are not giving legal advice, but one does not require legal training to see one important change in the legal landscape.

At least two Christian businesses, a bakery and a florist, have come under fire, including a court ruling against the bakery, for refusing use their creative talents to help put on gay weddings. (See here and here.) These things are happening first in states with anti-discrimination laws based upon sex or gender, and though such laws often have exclusions for churches, these efforts by homosexual advocacy groups are likely not to remain confined. Churches could fall under this sort of attack, especially if the church gives permission for use of its facilities in ways that are deemed to be arbitrary. And though the church might win, lawsuits can be costly in many ways. Many churches receive requests for the use of their facilities, and we believe the best way to protect the church’s witness is to enforce consistently a clear policy that is in line with its belief statements.

[1] ADF provides helpful information and a sample facilities use policy: http://www.speakupmovement.org/church/content/userfiles/Resources/ThreePoliciesAllChurchesShouldHave.pdf

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Disclaimer: This series of posts is not intended to provide legal advice regarding church law, membership issues, or lawsuits. While the posts have implications for potential legal matters, we suggest you consult an attorney for answers to any legal questions related to the subject matter of these posts.

“We Believe…”: Changing Your Church Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsWe are all theologians in a sense. Not everyone has pursued formal theological education to attain a degree that gives “theologian credentials,” but we all have at least some basic belief about God, man, sin, and salvation (or the lack thereof). When new churches start, they often spend countless hours laboring over how to express their theological beliefs in a written statement so that prospective members will know exactly what kind of church they are joining. In a perfect world, such statements of belief will find their way into the constitution or by-laws as the articles of faith or statement of belief.

For the most part, a church’s articles of faith will lay out the basic beliefs of the church regarding the Bible, God, Christ, man, sin, salvation, the church, ordinances and office, membership, and perhaps a handful of other things. This raises the question of marriage, sexuality, and gender identity—where do they fit in a statement of belief? Do they even belong in the first place?

Within a classical understanding of doctrine, a statement regarding marriage, sexuality, and gender identity could fit easily under the category of anthropology. The doctrine of anthropology is the study of human nature and existence. This doctrine asks the questions: Who am I? How did I get here? What is my purpose in life?

The best place to start in answering those questions is the first chapters of Genesis. Here we see some key truths about human nature that we must not forget. First, we are created by God—that is how we got here (Gen 1:26–27). Next, we are created in God’s image (Gen 1:26–27). While the image of God includes a number of different aspects, we can at least affirm that it includes the fact that we are created for a relationship with God. Third, we have been given stewardship over the rest of creation (Gen 1:26, 28), which means that we have the unique responsibility of caring for everything else God has made. Fourth, we see that God created us in two distinct genders—male and female (Gen 1:27). And finally, we recognize that God intended for the man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). These points will become very important as we see below.

When we move to Genesis 2, we learn about how mankind is created to relate to one another. In verse 18 we read, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” In the verses that follow, we see the creation of the woman and the first marriage. God takes one of Adam’s ribs and fashions the woman out of it (Gen 2:21–22). He then brings the woman to Adam and presents her to him as his “suitable partner,” or his wife. In verse 23, we read Adam’s response to God granting recognition that this woman is “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” Finally, verse 24 gives us the divinely inspired commentary on this union. We read, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

What we learn from the creation narrative is that marriage is a comprehensive union of a man and a woman in an exclusive, monogamous, covenant relationship designed to endure for a lifetime and directed toward the rearing of the next generation.

Not only do the opening chapters of Genesis point out God’s design for marriage, but they also lay the foundation for our understanding of gender and sexual identity. Note that God created two genders—male and female. He did not create the multiplicity of genders or sexual identities in the ever-expanding LGBTQ nomenclature. There are simply male and female, and they are designed to be complementary partners to one another. This is most clearly expressed through the institution of marriage.

Marriage between a man and a woman then becomes the only biblically authorized context for sexual expression. Any sexual expression apart from an exclusive, monogamous marriage between one man and one woman is sinful according to the text of Scripture.

It is this understanding that we want to put into the governing documents of our churches. Thankfully, we do not need to re-create the wheel in order to get an effective statement on anthropology, marriage, and sexuality into our church constitutions and by-laws. The first place that you ought to look is the statement of faith of your own denomination. Many denominations have such statements that will give you a starting point for appropriate language to use. The statement of your denomination might not be comprehensive enough for what we face today, but it should a good place to start. You can add to those denominational resources the helpful input of groups like Alliance Defending Freedom who have composed language that could be adopted into your constitution. Their work is more generic in order to appeal across denominational lines. My preference is to combine both such resources to develop a unique statement that addresses the needs of your specific church and the distinctive of your faith tradition. For example, below is my proposed statement that I believe works well within a Southern Baptist context.

We believe that God has created humans in his image and in the two distinct and complementary genders of male and female. These two genders are expressed in both physical biology and roles. Any departure from the biblical standard of male and female, whether that be a rejection of biological gender or an attempt to alter biological gender, is a violation of Scripture. (Gen 1:26–27; Matt 19:4; Mark 10:6; Eph 5:21–33)

We believe that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in an exclusive, monogamous, covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and his church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race. (Gen 1:26–28; 2:18–24; Prov 14:1; 17:6; 18:22; 31:10–31; Eccl 9:9; Matt 19:3–9; Mark 10:6–12; 1 Cor 7:1–16; Eph 5:21–6:4; Col 3:18–21; 1 Tim 5:14; 1 Pet 3:1–7)

We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, and pornography) is sinful and offensive to God. (Exod 20:14; Lev 18:6–23; 20:10–21; Job 31:1; Prov 5:1–20; Matt 5:27–28; Mark 7: 10–23; Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 6:9–20; 7:1–5; Gal 5:19–21; Eph 5:3–5; Col 3:5; 1 Thes 4:3–5; Heb 13:4; Jude 7)

We believe that God offers redemption and restoration to all who confess and forsake their sin, seeking His mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. (John 14:6; Rom 3:23; 6:23; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 John 1:9)

We believe that every person must be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity. Hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual are to be repudiated and are not in accord with scripture nor the doctrines of the church. However, identifying particular behaviors and identities as sin does not constitute harassment or hate. (1 Cor 13:1–13; Gal 6:1; Eph 4:15, 32; James 1:19)*

Let me suggest that you work on your own statement of beliefs in the area of marriage, sexuality, and gender so that your church can have a clear position on the issue. You may use the one provided above or adapt it for your own purposes. Remember, the purpose of such a statement is to state clearly what you believe about marriage, sexuality, and gender.

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*Much of this statement has been adapted and/or copied from Article XVIII of the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) and “Five Things All Churches Should Have in Their Bylaws” from Alliance Defending Freedom. Both of these resources are available to the public at the links above.

This is the second installment of a multi-part series addressing why churches need to consider updating their organizational documents. The series is written in conjunction with Dr. Waylan Owens. Part 1 is available here.

Disclaimer: This series of posts is not intended to provide legal advice regarding church law, membership issues, or lawsuits. While the posts have implications for potential legal matters, we suggest you consult an attorney for answers to any legal questions related to the subject matter of these posts.

There’s No Time Like the Present: Changing Your Church Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsThe state of marriage, gender, and sexuality is changing right before our very eyes. The prospects of same-sex marriage, fluid gender self-identification, and acceptance of a plethora of sexual expressions outside of heterosexual monogamous marriage were unfathomable within evangelical circles just 25 years ago. But times are changing.

Same-sex marriage is now at least partially legalized in 38 states, and 20 of those states have been added to the list since May 2014. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage across the country this spring and issue a decision in the summer.

States and municipalities have passed legislation making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality or gender identity. In Houston such an ordinance led to a request by the mayor to subpoena manuscripts of sermons from pastors when they preached about sexuality.

While the application of these laws and ordinances to churches have been rebuffed by the courts so far, the day is likely coming when motivated and well-funded activists will attempt to sue churches for disallowing membership, refusing to host a wedding, or actively taking a stand on issues related to sexuality and gender identification. I am still confident that any lawsuits ultimately will be dismissed by the courts on the basis of the First Amendment; however, there are steps that we can take to ensure those lawsuits are dismissed promptly.

In addition, many evangelicals who support traditional marriage are probably satisfied with the stances of our pastors, ministerial staff, and congregations on the matter. Yet, there could come a time when a pastor, minister, or church member changes his viewpoint and desires to effect change in the church. What would that do to the historic position of the church? What would change look like? What would we do in such a situation?

These are the questions that prompted this series of posts related to church constitutions and by-laws. This is the first of several posts that will delve into why churches need to consider updates to their organizational documents in the area of sexuality and gender identity. It is an area much broader than homosexuality versus heterosexuality. In fact, our goal is not so much to exclude certain behaviors and identities from the church so much as it is to state clearly what we believe in these areas.

I understand that talking about constitutions and by-laws is not the most exciting conversation. I also recognize that many churches have not updated them in decades—if ever. Yet, this is a crucial area of church governance that can serve us well in the midst of difficult days.

The goal of updating a church’s organizational documents is not necessarily to create another step in the membership or hiring processes. Instead, the goal is to affirm what we believe from a positive standpoint while the culture attempts to steer us in a different direction.

With that being said, I believe there is no time like the present to do a thorough review of your organizational documents and make the necessary changes to protect the church from legal action and to protect the integrity of the church from biblical and theological drifting. Change isn’t always fun, but in this situation it is necessary.

Working in conjunction with Waylan Owens, Dean of the Terry School for Church and Family Ministries and longtime pastor of churches in Mississippi, Alaska, and North Carolina, we will endeavor to offer some food for thought and resources for churches that can be useful for standing for truth in a world that calls us to acquiesce. Our suggestions are not intended to be exhaustive but rather instructive as to what you can do to help your church navigate the waters of these changing times.

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This multi-part series will be posted on this blog and the blog of Waylan Owens. We have worked together on this series to bring together our unique skill sets and experience.

Links for other posts in the series: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Disclaimer: This series of posts is not intended to provide legal advice regarding church law, membership issues, or lawsuits. While the posts have implications for potential legal matters, we suggest you consult an attorney for answers to any legal questions related to the subject matter of these posts.

Supreme Court to Decide Constitutionality of Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Supreme_Court_US_2010The Supreme Court has just announced that it will hear four cases involving the constitutionality of same-sex marriage laws around the United States. The hearings will most likely be in April with a decision in June.

Two central questions will be considered according to the Court’s statement granting certiorari:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

The answers to these questions will decide the future of marriage across the United States. If the answer to the first question is “Yes,” then same-sex marriage will be legalized nationwide, and the second question would be irrelevant. If the answer to the first question is “No,” but the second question is answered “Yes,” then it will authorize de facto same-sex marriage across the country. If both questions are answered “No,” then the status quo will continue.

The New York Times notes:

The pace of change on same-sex marriage, in both popular opinion and in the courts, has no parallel in the nation’s history.

Based on the court’s failure to act in October and its last three major gay rights rulings, most observers expect the court to establish a nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But the court also has a history of caution in this area.

This could be one of the most pivotal decisions of the Supreme Court in a generation. It will impact the future of marriage in this nation for generations to come. This is a time for us to be in earnest prayer for the justices of the Supreme Court. I pray that they will uphold the design for marriage that God has created and has been recognized for all of human history up to the last decade. The future of marriage is at stake.

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Supreme Court Order 574 U.S., January 16, 2015.

Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court to Decide Whether Gays Nationwide Can Marry,” The New York Times, January 16, 2015.

Lyle Denniston, “Court will rule on same-sex marriage,” SCOTUSblog, January 16, 2015.

Conversation with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

On September 14, I extended an invitation to Evangelicals for Marriage Equality to have a dialogue on the nature of marriage and whether evangelicals should support same-sex marriage. After a number of emails behind the scenes, I am pleased to announce that Michael Saltsman, one of the co-founders of EME, will be joining my Bible & Moral Issues class tomorrow (October 15) on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In addition to being one of the co-founders of EME, Mr. Saltsman is research director at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C. He has published a number of articles on minimum wage and employment policies. His articles have appeared in prestigious publications, such as the Wall Street Journal.

Some may wonder why I would allow someone with whom I disagree substantially on a significant issue to have an hour or so of my precious class time. In some respects, I have already answered this question in a previous post regarding my selection of books for one of my classes. I chose a text that espouses positions that I fundamentally oppose on a particular ethical issue. This is a very similar exercise. In that post, I noted:

For most of my academic career, I have heard Dr. Paige Patterson (president of my seminary) say that students need to know the arguments of the best thinkers who disagree with our positions.

Before inviting EME, I approached Dr. Patterson seeking his permission to extend the invitation. He told me it was my class and that he trusted me. In essence, I am doing what he taught me to do. This time it just happens to be live and in-person rather than in book form.

Am I afraid that my students will be swayed to support same-sex marriage? Not really. Could it happen? Anything is possible. Do they need to hear what EME has to say? Certainly. If some of my students are convinced to support same-sex marriage as a result of this conversation, then I have done a poor job of making my case this semester (granted, I still have about 7 more weeks left this semester to change any of their minds). It’s humbling to invite someone into my classroom whose goal is to convince my students that I am wrong. But it is a healthy exercise for both student and professor.

I am looking forward to a healthy discussion regarding our differences of opinion related to marriage. I have also invited all of my students from other classes to join us tomorrow morning. If you happen to be around the SWBTS campus at 8:30 in the morning, you are welcome to join us in Truett Conference Room.