It is Okay to be Shocked at SCOTUS’s Decision on Gay Marriage

SCOTUS’s (Supreme Court of the United States) decision to federally legalize gay marriage has radically changed everything. The response to it from Christians (evangelicals primarily, my tribe) has been mixed. The mixed response is somewhat understandable given the gravitas of this situation, and what it means for humankind (not an overstatement I don’t think). It is this response that I want to reflect on throughout the remainder of this post.

The primary response I have been seeing on social media, in particular, is somewhat disappointing to me. Personally I am an in an utter state of shock still; I think the ramifications of what just happened were a tipping point of biblical proportions. And yet the response I have seen from many evangelicals has been to simply take it in stride as if we all should have saw this coming. I find this response to be disappointing because it reflects an attitude of conditioning; conditioning by the culture in which we live, and it is this kind of attitude that I would say culturally has contributed to the culture we live in today in the USA. It is an attitude of indifference, defeatism, and really one, as I see it, of attempting to cope with the reality on the ground. So this is one response, and I think it is wrong!

Another response can be typified by Christianity Today’s response to it. Again, this is similar to the first response I just noted; there seems to be a desire to cope with the reality on the ground, but not a desire to confront it. What I gathered from the Christianity Today article on this was that they believe we live in a pluralistic society and so the best way for us to cope with that is to learn how to co-exist with others in a respectful manner. I do agree that we need to be respectful of others, and that we shouldn’t elevate homosexual sin to a level that makes it different than other sins (which was also part of the CT’s piece and point in their article). But I found CT’s response all too typical of the kind of bland vanilla response (in tone) that I have become all too used to as an evangelical Christian in North America.

I think the response should be one of shock! It is okay to be shocked at sin. I think we need to be that frog who jumped out of the kettle through looking to Jesus Christ and his Word, and understand that we are not of this world; we are for it in Christ, but indeed, in Christ. And I think this is really the problem; not the ‘in Christ’ part, but the part where the evangelical church has been conditioned so much, and learned how to cope so much, that things like the legalization of gay marriage simply become something we weren’t shocked by, or something that we need to learn how to co-exist with. Neither of these things are true! We are to be light in the world, exposing the darkness through our witness to Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4). True, we don’t want to elevate particular sins to an elevated level, but when a particular sin becomes a systemic reality (like homosexuality), then we ought to, as Christians, as light, articulate how and why this is incommensurate with the way the LORD ordered his reality, his creation.

The basic point I am wanting to get across is that it is okay to be shocked! Who cares if you saw this coming, who cares about coping with it; we don’t want to blunt God’s holiness, and when we simply nod our heads at stuff going on in society (like because we feel defeated), we are not reflecting the actual reality. The actual reality is that Jesus has overcome this world, he appeared to destroy the works of the flesh and the devil, and we must resist then these demonic attitudes that have us simply wanting to cope or coexist with the way of the culture. We are part of a Kingdom that is unmovable, unshakeable; if so, it is okay to be shocked at a culture that is on the move, and moving at a pace (away from God) that is quickly heading to destruction (or in fact is living from it).

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13 comments

  1. And there is no reason why society should continue to go in this direction. To accept what has happened or ignore it is to buy into the lie that somehow we have to go in this direction – that we are necessarily progressing. I personally tried to ignore what happened; I tried to tell myself that I knew it was coming, but like you, I’m shocked. I cannot accept it. Think about how this will affect what is taught in schools! As if public and private schooling in this country weren’t bad enough.

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  2. Bobby, I am inclined to see the whole string of American judicial decisions on SSM as judges doing what judges do– solving problems about property, etc.

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  3. Another way to put it: lament. The typical evangelical response that I’ve seen is, basically, keep on being happy and trust in God, because he is still in control. I understand the truth in that, but the reaction of the prophets was profound lamentation — grieving and wailing.

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  4. What do you mean, Bowman? I don’t get the connection between property and SSM.

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  5. Great point, Kevin!

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  6. Fariba, indeed!! It is a shocking thing; the world actually looks different to me as a result.

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  7. Briefly, American judges are not theologians. They necessarily view state registry of relationships as facilitating the use of property rights in real estate, health insurance, pension benefits etc. They hear real world cases about these rights and owe the parties timely rulings in them.

    Had state legislatures set up registries for same sex couples (ie civil partnership) then state judges could have based their rulings on those. Property rights of gays would have been protected; marriage would not have been redefined in public law; equity and custom would both have been respected. But– in no small part because of rather unwise religious opposition– only a few legislatures were brave enough to try this.

    Because their legislatures were creating no new registries for civil partners, state judges just started ordering town halls to use the registry they already had– marriage. Further religious opposition to this– much of it instigated by Karl Rove’s aide Ken Mehlman to increase evangelical turnout in key states during the 2004 election– led to several referenda amending state constitutions. This was an attempt to tie state judges’ hands in the administration of justice.

    But since these amendments effectively restricted property rights etc, this move simply made gay marriage a Federal issue on which SCOTUS would eventually rule. There was never any chance that judges at any level were going to leave the property rights of private parties unprotected. Ruling that marriage is a right that the state cannot deny any citizen is pragmatically the simplest ruling the court could make to solve the problem.

    It should not escape our notice that–

    (1) Certain evangelical leaders made this ruling inevitable by first opposing civil partnerships and then supporting the referenda to tie the hands of state judges.

    (2) The second of these interventions into the political process was timed to help one party win a presidential election.

    (3) Evangelicals never offered a solution to the public problem, presented their concerns as a partisan political faction, and in some places interfered with the administration of equitable justice.

    (4) To put it mildly, the gospel has been misrepresented, and countless souls will be lost as a result.

    Jesus said that those who live by the sword die by the sword. We can anticipate further consequences from our jealous God’s left hand.

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  8. You really believe it is that noble, and straightforward, Bowman? No, I don’t not at all. I agree there might be several pretexts for them to hide behind, but no I see this as purely ideological. They created a law they didn’t interpret it; which is what the dissenting justices made clear.

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  9. Yes, it is so straightforward in a workaday way– what else were judges to do to equitably close these cases?– that it is hard to imagine SCOTUS doing anything else once four justices agreed to hear the case. One will seldom lose in betting that judges will be judges.

    I do not recall the citation for it, but the ruling that made this inevitable is the Federal circuit ruling that states had no ‘compelling state interest’ strong enough to deny homosexuals the ‘equal protection of laws’ by restricting the status of marriage to heterosexuals. To overturn this ruling, what ‘compelling state interest’ could SCOTUS have cited?

    And so, yes, the dissenting justices quite rightly say that the majority made law. But since they themselves, like all appellate judges, also make law every day, I look forward to reading their precise criticisms in this case. (Whether in the majority or the minority, Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinions are often the most interesting to a Christian interested in law and ethics.) On the face of it, Kennedy’s majority opinion is based in the fuddyduddy ‘common law’ casuistry of earlier state-level opinions, but is given a certain lyricism with rights language that only the Supremes can sing.

    Yes, ideology– the notion that sexual orientation is a component of personal identity– did play a role in the change of gay behavior that in turn presented the legal problems about land, money, employment, etc. But sin per se is not against the law, and blaming judges for the motivations of the parties in their courts is more or less ‘killing the messenger.’ As I said, civil partnership statutes that conferred relevant rights of marriage in a justifiably different form were the only thing that could have let judges rule with equity without disturbing traditional definitions of marriage. Evangelical “leaders” opposed them, bringing the consequences we now see.

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  10. A concluding christological postscript. The account that I give above can sound leftish to a conservative, and so I would not at all mind someone checking it out as best they can.* But if it is right, then evangelical leaders were “played” by political allies who manipulated their suspicion and fear with very unintended consequences.

    Now these leaders should have been more EC. If they had been, their devotion to a reconciling Person of Christ would have placed them beyond the mental temptations of polarized political conflict. In the mind of Christ, they would have seen both of America’s parties, not as embattled partisans for one of them who see only evil in the other, but more as the Bible’s chroniclers realistically saw David as both king and sinner. And as public Christians, they would have advised political enemies, and our divided country as a whole, to be reconciled and seek the common good together, for “blessed are the peacemakers.” This faithful stance toward the political process arises from submission to Jesus Christ alone. However we also know that it clears the mind of negative emotions that hijack the brain and lead to false steps.

    Perhaps the Lord will be merciful to those who erred so grievously. However that may go, it is our place to choose new leaders whose impartial demeanor better reflects the majesty of our King.

    ____________________
    * On the 2004 election try to find Ken Mehlman poignant apology to the gay community that he subsequently joined himself. It is fading from the web, but can usually be found with a bit of persistence.

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  11. Bowman, I guess I’m nihilistic when it comes to the American political system.

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  12. All the more reason for Christians to be wary of their most partisan “leaders.”

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  13. Kevin, lament? Maybe, but this is not Israel that has fallen. Instead, this is apart of the movement that I see in Revelation: the Beast shaking off the whore who rides it and devouring her.

    The American Church has condoned the massacre of Native peoples, the enslavement of Africans, their continued endentured estate through Jim Crow in the South and soft-and-polite Jim Crow districting in the North, the abuse of the working poor immigrants from Ireland, Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe, an Imperial hegemonic death march from the turn-of-the-century till now, and the list could grow, and we’re going to mark, as a turning point, the legalization of “gay marriage”?

    Of course, in a few decades, it will become assimilated into the conservative “christian” platform (though, like racism against Africans, it will have hold outs) and log-cabin Republicans will be assimilated. Much of the erastian church in America will roll along with the changes, as much of it already has.

    The Beast will continue its triumphal march until it is laid waste as one more Babel that sought to claim Heaven.

    On another level, Bowman is right, this is an argument of legal/property rights that are righting an inequality. America is not the Church, why should we expect her to have a sacramental appreciation of marriage? Is the Victorian ideal of marriage sustainable? Not really, and the out-working of homosexual marriage is just down the slippery slope. It won’t sustain a civilization, which is why a nation like Russia is so harsh against it.

    When I started writing this, it was more anger, but there is also a place for sorrow. The Lord Jesus will dismantle America and damn it to the waste-bin of history, but its creations and art are still beautiful. Lamenting is not a bad attitude after all.

    2 cents,
    cal

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