“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down…Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you in exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:4-7
Back in the late 1970’s when I was an undergrad at Stanford, our Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship chapter sponsored lectures by Dr. Francis Schaeffer to the whole university. In the wake of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage, and its ramifications for the constraint of our religious freedoms, I am reminded of the question Dr. Schaeffer posed in those lectures (and in his book) How should we then live?
I’m a pastor by first calling (an attorney by second), and I’ve been prayerfully reflecting on the answer to Dr. Schaeffer’s most relevant question. So let me respectfully offer some thoughts as we look over the cultural, spiritual and legal landscape we know face.
1. We live in Babylon, not Jerusalem
A good friend (and fellow attorney) reminded me that the logic driving the Obergefell decision goes all the way back to 1992, to Justice Kennedy’s “sweet mystery passage” from Casey v. Planned Parenthood. Justice Kennedy wrote: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life.” In cases before the U.S. Supreme Court involving the themes of the Sexual Revolution such as abortion, homosexuality, and gay marriage, the antinomian logic of the ‘sweet mystery passage’ drives the outcome over and over striking down traditional morality as irrational and oppressive.
It should come as no surprise when Justice Kennedy writes for the majority in Obergefell “A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy” and “These considerations lead to the conclusion that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person” (emphasis added).
In other words, in the new metaphysical-sexual expression regime, “it’s all about me and my choices.” We have long since left “Jerusalem” with its assumptions of objective truth, right and wrong. Culturally, we are in Babylon and are facing solipsism (the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist) as our fundamental philosophical point of reference, and narcissism (excessive or erotic interest in oneself) as the fundamental sexual right. These two things never end well, as Paul observes of those who have exchanged “the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man” in Romans 1:18-32.
While the Jews were in Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzer made an idol ninety feet high and nine feet wide—an idol in the shape of a giant “I” (Daniel 3:1) What an appropriate biblical image for the challenge placed upon us by the new regime: to bow down before the almighty “I” of self. You know the rest of the story in Daniel 3. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not bow down to that idol, and though they were cast by the authorities into the fire, the only thing they lost were the ropes that bound them (Dan. 3:25-27) Like them, we cannot bow down to the almighty “I” of the new regime—however lonely that stance may be. As a church, we must respectfully, lovingly, truthfully but adamantly state that our identity is not in our autonomy or individual choices. Our identity lies in Jesus Christ and in him alone (see Ephesians 1).
With that in mind, how should we then live in Babylon – as Jesus would if he were in our shoes?
2. We must be prepared to receive those who are and will be wounded by the new metaphysical-sexual regime:
As a church, we must prepare for the Sexual Revolution’s refugees. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been quoted widely for his description of the two kinds of churches that will not be able to reach the refugees of the future:
“The first is the church that is so scared of people that we scream at them in anger and condemnation. If we see ourselves as people who are “losing” a culture rather than people who have been sent on a mission to a culture, this is how we will be. That will be exacerbated if we take our cues from those who play outraged Christian caricatures for a living rather than from those who have come to seek and to save that which was lost. If we do not love our mission field, we will have nothing to say to it.
“The second sort of church that will fail these refugees is the church that gives up, or silences, its convictions because they’re not popular. This too is fear. We assume that we can reach people if we dance around the sexual questions, thinking that we can get to that part of discipleship after they’re part of the family. That’s just not the way Jesus does it. Jesus gets right at the point of guilt, the part the person is protecting, and calls the person not only to repentance but also to forgiveness and freedom (Jn. 4:16).” (emphasis added). (see the whole article here).
We know that the new, metaphysical-sexual expression regime in our culture cannot keep its promises of fulfillment and happiness. Sexual and relational brokenness, spiritual and emotional wounds will accelerate with the ever accelerating sexual revolution blessed by the Supreme Court as “fundamental liberties of the individual.” Refugees, present and future, will not be attracted to churches gripped by fear—either the fear that shuns them, or the fear that renders them embarrassed and silent.
What is the remedy for the fear that Russell Moore describes at the heart of both churches that cannot reach future refuges? Quite simply, the perfect love of Jesus Christ which casts out all fear (I John 4:18-21) Within our own Anglican context, I can think of no better example of how to reach refugees of the sexual revolution with Christ’s perfect love than the recent sermon “Sex and created bodies” (March 2, 2014) by the Rev. Sam Ferguson of The Falls Church Anglican. Preaching from I Corinthians 6:12-20 and Genesis 1:26-28, Ferguson describes his encounter with a fellow classmate at Cambridge who was planning a sex change operation, and to whom he ministered with both truth and love. Although his classmate ultimately became a follower of Jesus and experienced transformation in Christ, he still struggled with his sexual identity and feelings. Ferguson continued to lovingly, truthfully, personally and faithfully be a friend and minister of Christ’s transforming love—just as Jesus would have. He makes the profoundly important point that our sex—our identity as male or female—is eternal, while our sexual drives and energies are temporary for this life only (there’s no marrying, no sexual activity in heaven; Luke 20:35). And so we should define ourselves by that which is eternal (our maleness or femaleness) and not that which is transitory (our subjective feelings). You can find the written transcript of his sermon here.
3. Prepare yourself (and your church) for the coming legal challenges to enforce the regime: Gammon-Grange and CLS
We can expect that advocates of same-sex marriage will not be satisfied with the decision in Obergefell. During oral argument by the United States top attorney, Solicitor General Verrilli was questioned about whether tax exempt status would become an issue for colleges that prohibited same-sex conduct by their students. Verrilli agreed. When questioned further about the right of religious colleges to prohibit same-sex couples in their married housing facilities on the basis of religious freedom, Verilli avoided answering the question. As Justice Thomas observed in his dissent, it is “All but inevitable” that the new definition of marriage and the religious definition of marriage “will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.”
As the Statement of the Anglican Church in North America’s (ACNA) College of Bishops reiterates Anglican churches in North America will neither perform nor participate in same-sex weddings or blessings, period. Therefore we can expect challenges to our tax exempt status, zoning, clergy housing allowances, employment practices, use of our facilities, and outreach ministries—to name but a few. There are two recent webinars by Gammon & Grange here and The Christian Legal Society here that will help you understand both the impact of the Obergefell decision on your religious freedoms, and the steps you should take now to prepare for these coming challenges.
If you do not already have an attorney for your church or diocese, please find one. At the American Anglican Council, one of our strategic priorities is defending Anglicans in distress (present and future). During our long season of litigation, we helped network attorneys who were defending Anglican congregations who were leaving their former denomination. We are here to do the same, working with the ACNA and sharing resources across denominations through our ecumenical partners (see the Common Ground Christian Network) to help prepare you for the days ahead.
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” I Cor. 15:58
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is CEO of the American Anglican Council.