My Reflections on the Supreme Court Ruling re: Same Sex Marriage

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court has struck down all state bans regarding same sex marriage. This makes same sex marriage the law of the land in all fifty states. Most of us were not surprised by the decision since the trajectory of this, as noted in Justice Kennedy’s decision, was driven by a substantial shift in public opinion over the last six years. It seems like a long time ago that Barack Obama stated as a Presidential candidate that he believed that marriage was between a man and a woman because he was a Christian and he “had to believe that God was in the mix.” In 2012 when the President changed his position, it seemed that it was only a matter of a few years before public sentiment had clearly shifted among most Americans.

From a Christian perspective, this ruling may be the clearest signal yet that we as a nation have finally passed into post-Christendom. We can no longer expect that our country will either embrace, or even comprehend, Christian values. For the Christian, morality can never be market driven and delivered through a majority vote decision of the Supreme Court, any more than it could be by a state legislature. As Christians, we draw our understanding of morality from the authority of God’s Word. Yet, increasingly, biblical revelation will sound foreign and insensible to many contemporary people. Scripture does not take as its starting point that marriage is a social arrangement which is culturally accommodated to provide personal fulfillment and sexual intimacy. Judge Kennedy, in his decision, clearly made that a centerpiece of his landmark ruling. In Scripture, marriage is an institution designed by God at creation because God created us “male and female.” Jesus echoes this when he says that a man shall leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. Marriage is designed to reflect the Trinity, share in God’s plan for reproducibility and, ultimately to reflect the relationship between Christ and His Church. It is a first and foremost a sacred sacrament, declaring a great mystery, not merely a social contract of convenience, tax benefits and social accommodations.

We would be mistaken if we thought that this ruling marks the ‘end of something.’ This is, in particular, what makes the capitulation of many mainline Protestants over this issue so baffling. The failure of many mainline churches to appreciate the larger theological context of this is troubling. This is actually just the front edge of something with has profound implications. A recent writer who is part of the LGBT “community” said it best when he said that those who speak of only “gay” and “lesbian” are living in the “dark ages.” His point was that the real issue today is not about sexual attraction between men and men, or women and women, but, more fundamentally, about the freedom for gender non-conformity and the full disassociation of gender with any physiological markers. In other words, theologically speaking, this movement is not merely about sex or marriage, it is a discussion about the elimination of all gender boundaries and assumptions about gender identity, even those markers physiologically given to us through creation. This is, therefore, fundamentally about the Christian view of the body. This will become even more evident with the next cultural wave which will focus on bi-sexuality and transgenderism (the B and T of LGBT). Once the gender line in marriage has been abandoned, then it is exceedingly difficult to establish a line of defense against other challenges which we will encounter over the next decade. There is probably no better example of this than Facebook which only a few years ago had two identity choices: male and female. Today, Facebook has 51. This is precisely why a rejection of homosexual practice and sexual misconduct occurs in a disproportionate number of the “sin lists” in the Scriptures. This is a clear defiance of the historic Christian teaching concerning the body. The reason the church so forcibly rejected the teachings of the early gnostics is because the gnostics did not believe the body could be trusted. The church regarded it as nothing less than a rejection or erosion of the doctrines of creation, the incarnation, the bodily resurrection and even our own bodily resurrections at the end of time.

I am thankful that the United Methodist church’s official position is that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This resonates with historic Christian teaching and is held by Christians all over the world, whether Roman Catholic, evangelical or Pentecostal. When the UMC gathers in Portland in May of 2016, it would be powerful if the UMC were to continue to side with Christian doctrine on this issue and not capitulate to the surrounding culture. It would mark a powerful example of a mainline denomination’s willingness to accept its new status as occupying the prophetic margins, not the cultural center. It would be our own acknowledgement that we must learn (and teach our congregations) how to reorient ourselves as the people of God in a culture which is, and will be, increasingly hostile to Christian identity.

Moving forward from this decision, we, as the people of God, have to find our own voice again. We are currently failing the “cultural test” because we are only known for what we are against, rather than what we are for. We must learn to articulate the Christian vision for the mystery of marriage and joyfully embody it in our lives and homes. I am very hopeful about this period of history. The church has never really prospered under the Christendom arrangement because, even at its best, Christendom could only give us a civil religion highly domesticated from the actual teachings of the New Testament. This is our opportunity to more fully embrace and embody distinctive Christian identity. Our final authority is never any human court, however esteemed. The final authority for the Christian is always Christ himself. We are the church, and the true church of Jesus Christ is indestructible because Christ has promised to build it, and be the head of it. And we enjoy the wonderful promise that the “gates of hades shall not prevail against it.” Thanks be to God.

Comments

  • Thanks for your hopeful reminder. One small edit…it was a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.

    • Fred Ehlers says:

      Thank you for your well written thoughts. I hope the Methodists stand-up for marriage between a man and a woman at any cost in the future, certainly John Wesley (your founder) would do the same.

  • Rod Groom says:

    Thank you, Dr. Tennent, for your hopeful message.

  • Tim, I certainly agree with your statement: “Moving forward from this decision, we, as the people of God, have to find our own voice again.” If Christians do articulate the authentic, biblical biblical message and world view, we can expect two possible outcomes: (1) A national spiritual awakening. (2)Increased intolerance of biblical faith–and even persecution. Our nation is in moral free fall, and as you say, “We as a nation have finally passed into post-Christendom.” Only the nation’s return to biblical faith will prevent divine judgment. If spiritual renewal does come, it will require of Christians much private prayer and consistent public boldness.

  • Mary Page says:

    Song of Solomon Ch 8 5-7

    Under the apple tree I woke you,
    in the place where you were born.
    6 Close your heart to every love but mine;
    hold no one in your arms but me.
    Love is as powerful as death;
    passion is as strong as death itself.
    It bursts into flame
    and burns like a raging fire.
    7 Water cannot put it out;
    no flood can drown it.
    But if any tried to buy love with their wealth,
    contempt is all they would get.

    the last the least and the lost 4 percent of the population

    Guess the church can move on to solving poverty, hunger, and increasing faith over law. By the way the President of the United States exercised his faith ( a lawyer mind you) by a spontaneous rendition of Amazing Grace and everyone joined in. I would say presently that is the law of the land. 🙂 A visible symbol for an inward practice done in a public forum, made front page news, went global throughout the whole world. Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. The podium said METHODIST 🙂 Your turn.

    • Author says:

      Yes, “we as a nation have finally passed into post-Christendom.” Maybe now we the church will finally see that the only way the unregenerate act are as unregenerates! Contrary to Western culture’s idea, “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.” And the only cure is death to self and a new heart from God. Let us be Christ followers – and not followers of politicians and posers.

  • Thank you for the comment. Although you give a positive to the UMC (I am a graduate of ATS from 1976 and a UMC pastor) my concern is that bishops do not present a biblical defense of the statement. I contrast that with the statement by the Anglican Church in America and the Church of the Nazarene.

    • Larry Baird says:

      I think you are right about too many of our Bishops. They have long since abandoned any notion that they are “defenders of the faith” and are merely priests of cultural accommodation. They, however, are not those who vote at General Conference and it may well be that God is not finished with the people called United Methodist. Pray that this may be one of our finest hours.

  • According to this article the Methodists ARE redefining the definition of marriage.
    http://files.ctctcdn.com/dd33f9c8001/73743cb5-8ca9-441b-9531-386274b48ea5.pdf

  • You say: “This is, therefore, fundamentally about the Christian view of the body.” Do you have any recommendations for reading theology of the human being?

  • Kyle Hoeft says:

    I don’t think we are falling into post-Christendom as much as we think we are. If we look at the Enlightenment era, when our country was founded, it would appear to be an era of post-Christendom as well. Many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, and they spoke very critically of Christianity. I think there might be fewer head counts in churches now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are so many fewer Christians. I just think there are fewer fake Christians who don’t really follow Christ and just attend church because their family does or for other reasons. I think churches are welcoming intellect and critical thinking more than they ever have, and that’s a very good thing. I’ve heard many 50-60-year-olds who grew up in the church talking about how they were basically told to just accept what one person says about an issue or Bible passage and not to think or have an opinion on it themselves. That is not what Christianity should be about, and that does not allow a person to grow in their walk with Christ.

    I think our biggest concern is the fact that even the church is splitting over the issue of gay marriage. This might eventually lead to a very few amount of people in the church standing against it, which might make it harder for us to keep our rights to oppose it as a church.

  • John Murdock says:

    Excellent piece and I too hope the UMC will stand with the biblical view of the body. While not central to your thesis, you should be aware, though, that Chief Justice Roberts wrote a strong dissent, not the decision of the court as you state. Justice Kennedy (a libertarian Reagan appointee) is the author for the majority.

  • […] Tennent’s response – President of Asbury […]

  • This is a troubling and even a vexatious issue, and I fully know this. I was more comfortable with gay marriage when I merely visited different churches and before I joined one. But then…. In Canada there is a so-called “Methodist Stream” within and through the United Church of Canada, where the controversies of ordination and marriage have already been experienced. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled already, years earlier, that basic human rights in Canada for any and all human beings must necessarily and does include persons who are gay or lesbian. I have had to grow on the inside and of course I do still pray for grace. Since I was not a virgin when I first married, and since I seek the Living Lord’s forgiveness for myself day by day, I feel obliged and guided to spread and to share the gift of forgiveness and without wrongful judgements of another’s heart and soul. And I discover that I have the right to remain HUMBLE before the Lord of Mercy.

  • Rod Janssen says:

    The Supreme Court is made up of 9 individuals. They have been wrong before as in the 1856 Dred Scott decision which upheld slavery. To overturn this decision would be very difficult because the genie is now nationally out of the bottle, but hope springs eternal.

  • Dave Nuckols says:

    I fear you make an idol of the body and an idol of marriage. Both are used as metaphors for church (Body of Christ) and God’s relationship with church (Bride of Christ). But it is unseemly to turn the metaphor around and layer more theological freight upon it. Mustard farmers are just farming and not worshipping when they sow those seeds. Just my opinion.

    You err objectively when you call marriage a sacrament, or to quote your phrase a “sacred sacrament?” Most Protestants attending Asbury come from denominations that recognize only two sacraments: Baptism and The Lord’s Supper. That is true for UMC, Nazarenes, Wesleyans etc.

    Perhaps you are raising your bet on a losing hand with respect to civil advocacy against same sex marriage. (Apologies for my very non-Methodist card metaphor. But, again, it is just an analogy).

    • Author says:

      “Marriage is a metaphor” – read Mark 10:1-12! I guess when Jesus says, “And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery”, he really wasn’t talking about actual men and women – it was a metaphor!

    • Mark says:

      Marriage is, indeed, a sacrament in many Christian traditions, not the least of which is the Catholic church.

  • Author says:

    “Postmodern hermeneutics, which is largely based on deconstructionism in literary criticism and language games, may make a text interesting reading, but it does not communicate the meaning intended by the author.” “The postmodernist approach to hermeneutics appears to be based on radical reader-response theory, where the reader has priority over the author, and without any controlling influence from the text.” ( H S Lee )

  • Well said! Great opportunity for the church to be counter-cultural and share God’s story, including His design for marriage, in a winsome way. Let’s pray we do just that.
    Thank you for being a voice for orthodoxy.

  • Author says:

    “I became intent on raising awareness about intersex, particularly among conservative Christians who have been so embroiled in debates over sexual ethics that they have ignored or suppressed information about intersex for fear that it might undermine their visions of marriage. I wanted to try to quell these fears so that Christians are no longer ignorant or afraid of intersex, so that intersex persons don’t have to hide in their own churches, and so all of us can begin to work together to understand ourselves, to understand each and every other, spurring one another on toward love and the good (Heb. 10:24).” (Megan Defranza)

    Post-modern thinking casts those who disagree as “ignorant or afraid”!

  • Michele says:

    Are we talking about the Methodist that had President Obama have the eulogy of those who died in Charleston, right after saying same sex marriage is a great milestone for America. I’m sad to say I don’t see much hope there.

  • This is a SECULAR decision. The church has its sacrament which it continues. It doesn’t HAVE to marry same sex couples. Ministers are NOT required to perform those ceremonies. The ruling gives equality to those men and women who have lived in loving relationships for years, who have adopted children, who have been married in the states where it was legal. It gave all of those families rights that they didn’t have before. Couples in long term relationships, now don’t have to go through the legal red tape they had to endure to protect their relationship. Children will not have to be in limbo related to their adoption or birth certificates. Families can move because now ALL states must recognize their marriage whether it was conducted in CA, ME, VT, WA or wherever. Please don’t make this about the martyrdom of the church. God/Christ is bigger than this. I am pretty sure that the U.S. had entered a post Christian period way before the election of President Obama or this Supreme Court ruling.

  • HT Macon says:

    Monogamous same-sex couples are not “hostile to Christian identity.” They are attempting to enter Christian life. And they are doing so with grace and dignity in other denominations.

    The slippery slope of sexual sins you fear will ensue from the Supreme Court decision are the product of lust and selfishness, not love and commitment.

    Heterosexual marriage often devolves into sinful arrangements, yet we do not outlaw it in fear that it will become impure.