The Supreme Court and the Future of Marriage

June 26, 2013. Mark this day down in history.

I haven’t lived long enough to remember too many historic moments. I remember where I was when the Challenger space shuttle exploded. I have an image burned in my mind of watching the Berlin Wall collapse. I can even recall the visceral pain of watching the World Trade Center crumble in ruins.

I will also remember June 26, 2013, as the day that marriage changed forever in American society.

What exactly happened today? Let me offer a quick summary.

Hollingsworth v. Perry (California’s Proposition 8)

The Supreme Court essentially held that those defending California’s Proposition 8 do not have standing to file their appeal. The State of California has refused to defend Prop 8 in court; therefore, other citizens of the state took it up. As part of the ruling, the majority opinion reads, “Neither the California Supreme Court nor the Ninth Circuit ever described the proponents as agents of the State, and they plainly do not qualify as such.” In conclusion, the majority declared:

We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.

Because petitioners have not satisfied their burden to demonstrate standing to appeal the judgment of the District Court, the Ninth Circuit was without jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Since the State of California refuses to defend Prop 8 in court, the law will be held as unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court. Therefore, same-sex “marriage” will become legal in California once again.

On the positive side, SCOTUS did not rule broadly and make applications to other states. However, there will likely be further legal challenges in California and other states in the near future.

United States v. Windsor (Defense of Marriage Act)

In the decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the law. This means that same-sex couples who are legally married in their respective states qualify for federal marriage benefits. These benefits include filing federal tax returns jointly, transferring property at death as a spouse to avoid inheritance taxes, etc. This would also seem to imply that federal employees with same-sex spouses would be eligible for various employment benefits (e.g., insurance) made available to spouses in heterosexual marriages.

As part of the majority opinion, the justices determined that DOMA treated same-sex couples with marriage licenses from states that approved same-sex marriages as a separate, unequal class. They wrote, “The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law [DOMA] here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”

The decision essentially allows for states to define marriage on their own for the purpose of administering marriage licenses, but it does not allow the federal government to recognize the marriage licenses of some states while not recognizing those of other states (or a particular subset from those states). In their concluding remarks, the majority of justices stated:

The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.

What Next?

What is next for our society? We can be thankful that the Supreme Court did not offer a new definition of marriage today. However, I still believe it is safe to say that we are heading toward the demise of marriage as the foundational institution of society. The term “marriage” is quickly losing its meaning. President Obama used his Twitter account to claim all love is equal when it comes to marriage. The logical conclusion of such a claim is societal acceptance of not only same-sex “marriage” but also acceptance of polygamy, polyamory, incest, and ultimately pedophilia. We may even live to see the day when the term “marriage” has no significance whatsoever. If marriage collapses as a social institution, we will see more crime and poverty, and we will see less education and children.

Where do we go from here as Christians? The truth of the matter is that God’s design for marriage in Genesis 2 has not changed—one man and one woman for a lifetime. However, we have a long and difficult road ahead of us. We will likely be marginalized in the cultural discussion of marriage. We will be called bigots and homophobes. We may even experience discrimination for our views. In the face of all that, we can find solace in Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 15:18–19 where he says, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

And one last reminder to those who call upon the Lord as Savior—it is not our ultimate responsibility to change the hearts of men and women. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. Our task is to proclaim the gospel faithfully knowing that true change in society only comes when hearts are changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the motto of my seminary proclaims: Preach the Word. Reach the world!

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Hollingsworth v. Perry, Supreme Court of the United States, June 26, 2013.

United States v. Windsor, Supreme Court of the United States, June 26, 2013.

Engaging the Culture at Bellevue Baptist Church July 23

For those of you in the Memphis area, I will be speaking at Bellevue Baptist Church on July 23 at 6:30 for their Women’s Ministry Girl Talk event (sorry, women only–except me). We will discuss how to engage the culture with biblical truth. I will note relevant current events and how to engage an unbelieving world. Hopefully you will find this beneficial.

For more information and to register, go to http://bellevue.org/upcomingspecialevents.

Good Reading: Founding Virtues and Class Divisions in America

I have been reading a book that was recommended to me on a number of occasions because of my interest in marriage, family, and culture. The book is Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray. I am about two-thirds of the way through the book, but I have come across a few interesting nuggets that I would like to share.

Without going into the entire premise of the book, I need to set the stage. Murray tracks the changes in “White America” (excluding all minorities) to see if such changes reflect similar changes in the minority populations. While much sociological research typically compares minority populations to whites with the understanding that a white majority is a fairly static baseline, Murray seeks to demonstrate the vast changes in white America that have taken place in the last 50 years.

The second section of his book addresses four “founding virtues” that he deems critical to the American experiment for the first 185 years of the nation’s existence. These virtues are marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiosity. Let me share a few of his observations on these virtues, specifically as they relate to “white America.”

Marriage

It’s even worse than it looks. The pessimistic title of this section springs from my belief that families with children are the core around which American communities must be organized–must, because families with children have always been, and still are, the engine that makes American communities work–and from my conclusion that the family in Fishtown [bottom 30% in education, bottom 50% in income, typically blue-collar or low-skill white collar jobs, working class] is approaching a point of no return.

Industriousness

In 1960, 81 percent of Fishtown households had someone working at least 40 hours per week, with Belmont [upper 20% in education, affluent, white-collar jobs, upper-middle class] at 90percent. by 2008, Belmont had barely changed at all, at 87 percent, while Fishtown had dropped to 60 percent. And that was before the 2008 recession began. As of March 2010, Belmont was still at 87 percent. Fishtown was down to 53 percent.

Honesty

I am not arguing that people of integrity never declare bankruptcy. Rather, I am arguing that there are always temptations to get into debt and always patches in life where finances become dicey. In a nation where integrity is strong, the effects of temptations and of rough patches are damped down. That trendline . . . showing a quadrupling of personal bankruptcies over a period that included one of the most prosperous decades in American history, looks suspiciously like a decline in personal integrity.

Religiosity

Many Americans still feel that they are supposed to be religious, and so they tend to tell interviewers that they profess a religion even if they haven’t attended a worship service for years. They also tend to tell interviewers that they attend worship services more often than they actually do. In the GSS, about a third of all whites who say they profess a religion also acknowledge that they attend no more than once a year. It seems reasonable to assume that, for practical purposes, these people are as little involved in religious activity as those who profess no religion. . . . If we think in terms of disengagement from religion, Fishtown led the way, and the divergence was significant. In the first half of the 1970s, about 10 percentage points separated Belmont from Fishtown. Over the next three decades, disengagement increased in Belmont to 41 percent in the last half of the 2000s. In Fishtown, the religiously disengaged became a majority amounting to 59 percent.

So far, Murray’s book is an interesting read. The impact of these societal trends on the church is also an intriguing question. Do you think they are having an impact?

Are Interfaith Marriages Wise?

wedding ringsA recent editorial in The New York Times made the case that interfaith marriages are a mixed blessing. On one hand, such marriages often lead to less satisfaction in marriage, higher divorce rates, and diminished commitment to faith traditions. On the other hand, the author claims that these marriages promote religious tolerance.

Before addressing the biblical evidence regarding interfaith marriage, let’s look at some of the facts. According to a 2010 survey, interfaith marriages have increased from 20% of married couples prior to 1960 to 45% of married couples in 2010. These marriages include what many historically consider interfaith (Jew and Gentile, Christian and Non-Christian, Muslim and Non-Muslim, etc.) and more contemporary versions of interfaith partnerships, including Catholic and Protestant, Mainline Protestant and Evangelical, and religious and non-religious.

The likelihood of interfaith marriage also increases with age. Among those who married before the age of 25, 48% were interfaith. The occurrence of interfaith marriage increases to 58% for those between 26 and 35, and it further increases to 67% for those 36–45.

The survey, commissioned by Naomi Schaefer Riley for her book ‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America, made a quite disturbing find. She discovered that “less than half of the interfaith couples in my survey said they’d discussed, before marrying, what faith they planned to raise their kids in. Almost four in five respondents (in both same-faith and interfaith marriages) thought having ‘the same values’ was more important than having the same religion in making a marriage work.”

Even Riley, who supports interfaith marriage, believes this idea to be unrealistic. She states, “I found that interfaith couples were less satisfied than same-faith couples by a statistically significant margin—and that the more religiously active spouse (as measured by attendance at religious services) tended to be the unhappier one.”

After all the negative consequences of interfaith marriage, Riley concludes her article by stating:

So while I recognize that the diminishment of religious institutions and a rise in marital instability could be among the long-term effects of interfaith marriages, I cannot wish for the tide to ebb. Nor do I think it will.

What should we make of this biblically? Despite Riley’s conclusion that interfaith marriage promotes religious tolerance, Scripture gives clear instructions regarding this practice. The Old Testament addresses “mixed marriages” on a number of occasions for the nation of Israel (Exodus 34; Deuteronomy 7; Joshua 23). In each of these cases, God warns the Israelites against intermarrying with the other nations because they will turn their hearts away from worshiping God. In the New Testament, Paul twice instructs his readers to marry “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7: 39) and to avoid being “bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14–15). The same thought process holds in Paul’s instructions as well—marrying a non-Christian will likely lead to diminished devotion for God.

The prevalence of interfaith marriages, however, is growing. Even among evangelicals, the trend of interfaith partnerships is increasing. Interestingly, Riley notes that evangelicals and black Protestants reported the highest levels of dissatisfaction in these types of marriages. In fact, divorce rates sky-rocketed for evangelicals. Riley notes, “While roughly a third of all evangelicals’ marriages end in divorce, that figure climbs to nearly half for marriages between evangelicals and non-evangelicals. It is especially high (61 percent) for evangelicals married to someone with no religion.”

Why do evangelicals rarely say anything about interfaith marriages? Why do pastors perform such marriages? I believe the answer lies in what Riley says about herself. She is shaped by her own experience. Despite the fact that she describes all the problems associated with interfaith marriages, she declares:

I am no impartial observer. I’m a Conservative Jew married to a former Jehovah’s Witness, who is African-American. (We are raising our children Jewish.) Our country’s history of assimilation and tolerance is one reason I, a grandchild of Eastern European immigrants, can live as I do. It is why I could marry the man I wanted to, without fear of ostracism.

So while I recognize that the diminishment of religious institutions and a rise in marital instability could be among the long-term effects of interfaith marriages, I cannot wish for the tide to ebb. Nor do I think it will.

Her own experience is driving her conclusion. She cannot wish for the tide of interfaith marriage to ebb because it would say that her own marriage is fraught with potential problems. I fear we say the same thing in our churches. To declare interfaith marriages unwise or unbiblical might disturb those sitting in the pew or even some in our families.

On this issue, Scripture contradicts her experience. When given the choice, she (and many evangelicals) chose experience. I pray, however, we stick with Scripture and not experience.

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Naomi Schaefer Riley, “Interfaith Unions: A Mixed Blessing,” The New York Times, April 5, 2013.

Homosexuality and Gender Roles: New Article in JBMW

JBMW logo

I am excited to announce that I have a new article that was just published in the Fall 2012 issue of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood addressing the challenges that homosexuality creates for gender roles. I would like to thank Denny Burk and the editors at JBMW for including my article in this issue.

My article deals with the intersection of homosexuality and biblical gender roles. I make the argument that homosexuality is not compatible with gender roles as they appear in Scripture. By application, then, support for homosexuality requires a redefinition of gender roles. Here is a summary of my article from the introduction:

While much of the current debate has centered on gay rights and same-sex marriage, it is imperative to understand how the issue of homosexuality impacts a biblical understanding of gender roles. By its very nature of describing a relationship between two members of the same sex, homosexuality seems to make the question of gender roles irrelevant. Thus, there are vast challenges that homosexuality creates for a biblical discussion of gender roles. If believers are going to address these challenges both within the church and in the culture, they must first understand the impact that homosexuality has on a complementarian view of the sexes. Homosexuality denies the God-ordained nature of gender roles as revealed in Scripture by rejecting the complementary nature of sex, by subverting the complementary nature of marriage, and by distorting the complementary nature of the Christ-church relationship.

You can view and download the entire issue of the journal at the website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at www.cbmw.org.

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Evan Lenow, “The Challenge of Homosexuality for Gender Roles,” The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 17 (Fall 2012), 28-35.

What Did Jesus Teach About Homosexuality?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 4

This is part 4 in an ongoing series where I answer the arguments of 22-year-old Harvard University student, Matthew Vines. In the previous three parts, I addressed his interpretation of Genesis 2 and Romans 1 and his claim that denying marriage to homosexuals inflicts undue pain. In this post, I consider his omission of Jesus’ teaching on the issue. Follow the links for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Throughout his argument, Matthew Vines attempts to contrast the supposedly legalistic teachings of the Old Testament and Paul with an ethic of love in the teachings of Jesus. His overall premise is that teaching cannot be good if it leads to “emotional and spiritual devastation” or “the loss of self-esteem and self-worth.” Vines claims that such concepts come from the teachings of Jesus, thus elevating the words of Jesus above any other teaching in Scripture.

He states:

Sacrifice and suffering were integral to the life of Christ, and as Christians, we’re called to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and to follow Him. This is true. But it assumes that there’s no doubt about the correctness of the traditional interpretation of Scripture on this subject, which I’m about to explore. And already, two major problems have presented themselves with that interpretation. The first problem is this: In Matthew 7, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against false teachers, and he offers a principle that can be used to test good teaching from bad teaching. By their fruit, you will recognize them, he says. Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Good teachings, according to Jesus, have good consequences. That doesn’t mean that following Christian teaching will or should be easy, and in fact, many of Jesus’s commands are not easy at all – turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, laying down your life for your friends. But those are all profound acts of love that both reflect God’s love for us and that powerfully affirm the dignity and worth of human life and of human beings. Good teachings, even when they are very difficult, are not destructive to human dignity. They don’t lead to emotional and spiritual devastation, and to the loss of self-esteem and self-worth. But those have been the consequences for gay people of the traditional teaching on homosexuality. It has not borne good fruit in their lives, and it’s caused them incalculable pain and suffering. If we’re taking Jesus seriously that bad fruit cannot come from a good tree, then that should cause us to question whether the traditional teaching is correct.

This line of argumentation suffers from a couple of problems. First, it diminishes the inspiration and authority of Scripture by subjecting the Word of God to an artificial hierarchy. Vines considers the words of Jesus to be more authoritative than the rest of Scripture. While Jesus was certainly God incarnate walking this earth and teaching his followers, the rest of Scripture is also from the mouth of God. Second Timothy 2:16–17 reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Thus, the words of Paul in Romans 1 are just as inspired as the Sermon on the Mount.

However, this is not the only problem with Vines’ arguments from the teachings of Jesus. Vines simply ignores Jesus’ teaching on marriage, which is devastating to his larger discussion. In Matthew 19:3–12, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees about marriage. While their question addresses the issue of divorce, Jesus answers them with his interpretation of God’s design for marriage—one man and one woman for life. In verses 4–6, Jesus responds, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” In this passage, Jesus affirms that God created male and female and that marriage is designed between one man and one woman. Those who say that Jesus never addressed the issue of same-sex marriage typically overlook this clear passage of Scripture. Biblical marriage and biblical sexuality are heterosexual in nature according to Jesus himself.

Based on his “love ethic,” Vines is missing a crucial part of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus declared that marriage is designed for one man and one woman. Even in his hierarchal hermeneutic, Vines must acknowledge Jesus’ words on this subject. Therefore, his condemnation of false teachers falls back on himself. Jesus made a clear statement about both gender and marriage. Any departure from that standard is a false teaching. Vines stands convicted by his own words on this issue.

It has been my hope in this series to provide reasonable answers to the arguments posed by Mr. Vines. Almost nothing about his argument is new; instead, he has repeated the same points that have been made by proponents of homosexuality for the last 40–50 years. While my counterpoints do not cover the entire scope of the discussion, I hope you can see that his logic is severely flawed.

This debate will most likely continue for years to come, especially in light of the push for legalizing same-sex marriage. I encourage you to study the Scriptures diligently and see how the consistent message of the Bible is that homosexuality is a sin. However, we must also remember that it is not the unpardonable sin. Paul declares, “Such were some of you; but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). The key here is that some in the church at Corinth WERE homosexuals. They were redeemed by Christ, and he changed their lives. May we pray for the same for Mr. Vines and others struggling with this and any other sin.

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For the full text of article on The Christian Post, see Lillian Kwon, “Theologians Find Vines’ ‘Homosexuality Is Not a Sin’ Thesis Not Persuasive,” The Christian Post, September 28, 2012.

For the full text of Matthew Vines’ defense of homosexuality, see Matthew Vines, “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality,” http://matthewvines.com.

Statement on Release of Iranian Pastor

The Research Institute of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (Southern Baptist Convention) has released a statement on the release of Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani was imprisoned in October 2009 for apostasy and proselytism. Essentially, he is a Christian who was sharing his faith, which is illegal in Iran. The statement below addresses the issue of religious freedom and calls on the oppressive Iranian regime to honor Pastor Nadarkhani’s right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

The text of the statement follows:

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was imprisoned by the Iranian authorities and charged with apostasy and proselytism on October 12, 2009. Over a period of nearly three years, he endured torture and was under the constant threat of death. His wife was imprisoned and his children threatened. This was all in an effort to force him to recant his Christian faith.

On September 8, 2012, the charges of apostasy were withdrawn and Pastor Nadarkhani was convicted of evangelizing Muslims and sentenced to three years in prison. He was then released from prison since he had already been held two years and 11 months.

We rejoice with Pastor Nadarkhani and his family over his release. Nevertheless, we are outraged that Iran has subjected him to such barbaric treatment. Iran’s behavior during this entire period violated one of the most basic of human rights—the freedom of conscience.

This right is granted to humanity by God. It is also affirmed in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Iran was an original signatory: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

In protest of Iran’s inhumane treatment of Pastor Nadarkhani and countless other prisoners of conscience in Iran and around the world, we reaffirm and celebrate the freedom of conscience entrusted to humanity by God the sovereign Creator, and we condemn specifically the horrific behavior of Iran toward its citizens who choose a faith other than Islam.

We call for the following:

  • that the Iranian authorities publicly apologize to Pastor Nadarkhani for their flagrant abuse of his God-given right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and for the humiliation, loss of honor, pain, suffering, and loss of livelihood to which he and his family were subjected for nearly three years,
  • that every nation honor the God-given freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and release every prisoner whose only offense relates to these.

We further commit ourselves to pray and work for the release of every prisoner of conscience and to do all that we can to promote and protect freedom of conscience here and around the world.

Finally, in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani we invite all people to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior for the complete and everlasting forgiveness of their sin and eternal peace with God.

I am honored to be one of the Research Fellows of the ERLC who helped to craft this statement. Much of the credit should go to Dr. Barrett Duke for his initial work in drafting the document. You can join me and others who have already signed this document by clicking here and adding your name.