Justice and Non-discrimination?

March 2, 2012


The sixth argument for gay marriage, contained in the comments attached to the Spahr decision, included the justice issue.

6.  The right to marry is afforded to all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation. It is a matter of justice and pastoral care that the church must redefine marriage to reflect this basic right and end the discrimination directed at homosexual people.

A fairly typical “secular” argument, here the demand for gay marriage is presented straight-up and boldly as a civil rights issue. But it is built upon a false assumption rampant in the world, and its reasoning cannot stand within the realm of Christian morality.

In response, Christians acknowledge that the right to marry (or not) is afforded to all persons in this country. Every single person, regardless of sexual orientation, is allowed to marry an opposite-sex person of his or her choice. But to claim that an individual has the unalienable right to marry anyone, without limitation, is to overreach.  One cannot marry a new spouse if one is already married. And one may not marry a person of the same sex either, if one is to follow God’s intent. Since we are Christians in the Reformed tradition, we follow God’s instruction; we do not have the prerogative to “redefine marriage.” How presumptuous of anyone to think redefinition is even an option. God instituted marriage, God defined it, human beings live within its parameters. But human beings cannot by law or independent willfulness change its definition.

Since God has ordered the male-female prerequisite for marriage and the consequences of violating that norm, it is a matter of justice and pastoral care for the church to be honest with its members and uphold the biblical understanding.  The fact that same-sex marriage is legal in some states is irrelevant to the church’s discussion. Just because something is legal does not make it morally right. Morality is the church’s domain, where God alone is Lord of the conscience, and it must remain prophetic in its witness. Part of that testimony includes demonstrating to the world what ordered sexuality looks like in relationships and how within this order true freedom can be found.

The church’s obligation is to preserve the truth, adhere to the Scriptures as our only rule of faith and practice, show mercy and compassionately nurture all people in faith and discipleship. It is not pastoral to facilitate the sin of a parishioner, to declare acceptable what God has forbidden, or to celebrate the choices of parishioners that are contrary to God’s law. The church must not forget the inextricable link in the Scriptures between “justice” and “righteousness,” nor the link between “truth” and “goodness.” In other words, we are called to practice what we preach, and that drawn from God’s Word to us.

The charge that highlighting heterosexual marriage is doing an injustice against GLBT people is unfounded and false. I first heard this objection when I announced a four-week preaching series on marriage. [I also heard from single people that I was glorifying marriage at their expense.] Other critics have accused preachers of homophobia, heterosexism, or worse, idolatry of a traditional view. Good grief. Obedience to God’s commands, living within God’s design, ordering our lives around definitions given by God is obedience and faithfulness, not idolatry or phobia or “ism”! How have some arrived at such a twisted conclusion? By adopting the world’s standards as their own.

In fact, it remains the duty of biblically faithful and confessionally grounded Presbyterians to preach, teach, and model fidelity in heterosexual marriage or chastity in singleness. To teach anything outside these bounds follows in the footsteps of Eve, who fell for the snake’s deception, questioned God’s wisdom, and relied on her own judgment (Gen. 3).  The just and right alternative is to stay the course God has set: “Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:20-22).  If we do this as individuals and a denomination, we can expect the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).



6 Responses to “Justice and Non-discrimination?”

  1. collin Says:

    Thank you, Mary, for this clear word.

    When states in the US redefine marriage, as though it were a merely human invention, that’s a travesty. But it doesn’t worry me as a Christian — as an American, though I fear for our country’s future.

    We in the church know–or should–that marriage was instituted by God, and that we are not free to redefine it. The thing about this issue is that it’s not The Problem but merely a symptom. When the church’s thinking is turned askew by the world, rather than spreading its corruption-preventing influence into the world; when we forget that the Lord is God and we instead enshrine earthly wisdom (James 3; Pr. 28:26) — that’s The Problem.

  2. Carl Pelz Says:

    After witnessing so much confusion in the Presbyterian community (that too closely mirrors the confusion in the surrounding culture), the clear thinking in your posts on these topics is utterly refreshing. Thank you for being faithful to scripture and speaking truth in love.

  3. Michelle Nichols Says:

    My sister, I’ve been following your blog and nodding my head for months now, as I read the words and share them with others. Time to tell you how grateful I am for your honesty, your desire to speak both grace and truth, and your willingness to let God speak through you, whether popular or unpopular. With heavy sadness I have stepped down as a Ruling Elder in a congregation that is avoiding discussion and prayer on these issues, but your work and thoughts give me hope! Know that you are prayed for regularly.

  4. Linda Lee Says:

    I would love to see you make a booklet of
    these last few writings for people to have as a teaching tool for churches. Your clear expression of Biblical truth and explanations in contrast to the Court’s views are so helpful. I suspect as you have said that these arguments of the court will be put forth at the next GA inorder to move the PC(USA) toward accepting a redefining of marriage. It would be helpful to have these posts as a clear understanding of the issues involved when that time comes.

  5. Mary,

    Thanks for your clear statement of what the church’s obligations are in a world that is embracing sexual anarchy. I agree with others here that these last few columns need to be bundled and posted somewhere as a good resource. This is especially true since the latest Spahr decision was set up to spark a debate (actually it was set up to promote the abandonment of biblical truth) in the PCUSA. Perhaps the Presbyterian Coalition or a similar group could do us this favor.

    Mike Armistead, Fayetteville, NC

  6. Meg Says:

    I heartily encourage reading Wesley Hill’s remarkable book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. He writes as a Christian who is gay and who practices celibacy in obedience to Christ. This is truly a book for our time and the power of his personal story is compelling.

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