On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage nationally. Since then, many PCA sessions have been asking about how to respond to to the new situation this decision has created. In the weeks since the Obergefell decision I, like many others, have been involved in extensive conversations on the issue. I’ve spoken with a number of experienced PCA pastors and leaders, including Dr. Bryan Chapell, Rev. James Kessler, Dr. Paul Kooistra, Rev. Mike Khandjian, Dr. Charles McGowan, Rev. John Robertson, Rev. Scott Sauls, and Dr. Roy Taylor. What follows summarizes the advice I have heard from them (each has contributed something to this summary, though they might not endorse every statement in it):
We should not hesitate to declare boldly our belief that marriage is to be between one man and one woman.
As we do so, we should state clearly that our position originates from our conviction that Scripture is the inspired Word of God and our authority in matters of faith and practice and from our concern for the souls of all people, not from any animus toward the LGBTQ community. We should set any statements we make about same sex marriage in the larger context of the overall biblical teaching on marriage, which includes the following:
- That from the creation of human beings, God has indicated that marriage, gender, and sexual expression were designed by Him and are inextricably interwoven (e.g., Genesis 1 and 2);
- That when He created humans male and female, He declared, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” with the latter phrase including sexual intimacy (Genesis 2:24);
- That He established marriage as the context for the increase of the human race, and families as His primary means to cultivate the earth and fill it with human culture (e.g Genesis 1:26-27);
- That He also established these families to be places where human beings may develop and flourish: where brokenness may be healed, wrongs may be forgiven, and character may be developed;
- That our Lord Jesus affirmed this view of marriage and family when He addressed the issue of divorce (Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:6-8);
- That the apostle Paul explained that the marriage of a man and a woman was designed to be a reflection of the relationship of Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:32);
- That throughout Scripture, the male/female, husband/wife union is a primary metaphor that God uses to describe His love and purposes for His people (e.g, Isaiah 54:5-8; Jeremiah 2:1-3; Hosea 2);
- Since the Bible declares as an integral part of its paradigm for healthy marriages and families that all sexual intimacy belongs to a lifelong committed marriage between a man and a woman, any departures from this norm, including same-sex intimacy, same-sex marriage, premarital sexual intimacy, extra-marital cohabitation, adultery, polygamy, and other such departures, are sinful and contrary to the God’s gracious design in His creation of human beings (Exodus 20:14, Romans 1:18-32).
When articulating this biblical position with appropriate boldness and concern, we should take care to do so with kindness, humility, and without a hint of malice toward those who disagree with us.
Even if they fail to extend the same courtesy to us and cast themselves as our enemies, we must remember our Lord’s injunction to pray for and do good to those who treat us in such a way. We must accord those who oppose the biblical position in this matter with the respect due to all who bear the image of our God. Particular respect and prayer is biblically required for those in positions of government authority who advocate a position contrary to Scripture in these matters (Romans 13:1-7, I Timothy 2:1-3).
Above all, our churches should be places where love and compassion abound to all.
Our churches must be places where all are welcome, and where all may encounter, by word and deed, the gospel of a gracious God who liberates all kinds of sinners through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 6:9-11). We must remind our congregations that Scripture teaches that sin has estranged all humanity from God, whatever the particular ways that sin nature is expressed by any individual. We must encourage our people to imitate our Lord, the friend of sinners, by befriending sinners (including those engaged in same sex relationships) and expressing true Christian love that allows honest expression of biblical care and truth. We must call our members to acknowledge humbly their own struggles with sin and to care for others who struggle, including those who battle same sex attraction.
We must carefully prepare for the pastoral issues that the Obergefell decision will generate.
Such preparations will be needed in at least four areas:
- We must be ready to offer counsel to Christians who bring practical questions as to how they should respond to ways this decision may affect their everyday lives – for example: “Should a Christian florist (or photographer, or wedding planner, or caterer) participate in a same sex wedding?” “Should I attend the same sex wedding of a close friend/family member?” “How do I respond to my gay/lesbian child when they visit overnight with their same sex marital partner?” We must acknowledge that Christians committed to the biblical teaching on human sexuality will face new and widely varying circumstances that will make the application of biblical principles difficult. Depending upon how we weigh the specifics, we may arrive at different approaches to the application of biblical truth to these questions, so as sessions we must discuss them thoroughly and prayerfully as we seek to offer wise counsel to our members. In our discussions of such matters, we should consider the legal and relational ramifications of our counsel, regardless of the role we ultimately suggest they should or should not play in a member’s decision.
- We must be ready to address the many complicated pastoral situations we will likely face as same sex couples come under the preaching of the Word and the ministry of the Spirit in our churches.
- We must be ready to explain how biblical repentance is necessary for church membership as set forth in our Confession of Faith and Book of Church Order.
- We must equip our congregations to deal with any persecution that may arise from declaring and practicing biblical truth (e.g. John 15:18-25; II Timothy 3:12-13).
We should review the way we apply our convictions to our church policy statements.
While our Constitution clearly affirms that marriage is between one man and one woman (WCF 24.1), there are other policy issues that we must consider, especially policies that concern the use of our church facilities. In particular, two steps are essential in this review:
- First, we must carefully review the boundaries our current policies place on that use as to their consistency with our constitutional documents.
- Second, we need to make certain that our written policy statements concerning use of facilities reference our constitutional documents as they pertain to marriage and other matters such as worship and evangelism, which references document the purposes for which we maintain our facilities and properties.
Our aim should be to formulate policies that allow us to continue to open our facilities to ministries outside our congregations that are consistent with our mission and do not compromise our convictions.
Finally, we must acknowledge that the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell does not represent a sudden departure of our culture from the biblical view of marriage and family.
Rather, it is merely the latest episode in a series of mileposts (e.g. no-fault divorce, abortion, and premarital cohabitation) over the past half century that have signaled that departure. We must recognize that we in the evangelical church, both by our failure to advocate the robust, healthy biblical teaching on marriage and our failure to practice it in our ranks, have contributed to our culture’s journey in this direction. We cannot change the past, but we can commit to a more faithful future. With the Spirit’s enabling we can teach and model the sorts of loving, healthy families Scripture envisions; and we can reach out with the love of Christ and enfold those who long for the intimacy and healing such families were designed to foster.
While the advice outlined above provides some direction for sessions as they address the consequences of Obergefell, it is not intended to address every question related to ministry to those who are sexually broken, including those attracted to members of the same gender. In the providence of God, in January 2014 the Cooperative Ministries Committee appointed a subcommittee to prepare a comprehensive study on these issues. In the meantime, the Stated Clerk’s office has supplied a list of resources drawn from variety of sources widely used in PCA discussion and research on same sex marriage and related issues, and a number of websites helpful for evaluating and revising facilities policies. This list is not intended to be exhaustive but offers a good starting point, and may be accessed by clicking here.