“What God has joined together, let man not separate.” These words of Jesus have been pronounced at weddings over married couples for centuries, and in so doing there is public acknowledgment that marriage belongs to God: it was His idea, He created it, He defined it. And even though since the fall it has been troubled by sin, it remains a divinely established estate by which God blesses and protects every man, woman, and child. Through marriage man and woman are complemented and completed and cared for to a degree they could not be otherwise (Genesis 2:18; Ephesians 5). Through natural marriage, children are conceived, born, and raised in a way that could not be done if either a father or a mother were not a part of the divine package (Genesis 1:27–28; Ephesians 6:4). Through God-ordained marriage the fallen nature of man is kept within bounds so unbridled sin does not reign (1 Corinthians 7:1–2).
Marriage is the foundation for civilized society. Without it, nations crumble. But even more, earthly marriages are reminders of a greater and eternal marriage (Ephesians 5:22ff.). A bride and a groom here reflect (albeit dimly) the forever marriage between the Church and Christ. When culture abandons the sacred understanding of marriage, it also abandons a testimony to the eternal Bride and Bridegroom relationship and the Gospel that established it.
Things have dramatically changed. Society has gone from the understanding that marriage has a transcendent source to a new understanding where human beings say, “No, marriage is ours and we can do with it as we please.” And now this arrogant lie has been crowned by the Supreme Court decision of June 26, 2015. A lie is now the law of the land. And as Hermann Sasse wrote,
“The lie kills nations. The most powerful nations of the world have been laid waste because of their lies. History knows of no more unsettling sight than the judgment rendered upon the people of an advanced culture who have rejected the truth and are swallowed upon in a sea of lies. … Where man denies that he and others are dying, the terrible dissolution [of his culture] is held up as a glorious ascent, and decline is viewed as an advance, the likes of which has never been experienced.” (Union and Confession, 1936).
Over the last 14 years, marriage laws were changed in various states with numerous sad consequences felt by many in widespread places. The difference now—with a nation-wide ruling—is that this lie will become legally binding in more ways, places, and on more people than ever before. It will impact not just a small segment of the population, but federal and local governing bodies, schools, businesses, families, individuals, and even Christian colleges and churches. God’s ordained ordering for culture and civilization is at great risk. Christians and our confessional Lutheran churches will be persecuted.
Pressure through name-calling (“intolerant,” “bigoted,” “hateful,” “discriminatory”) to conform will continue. But with this legal court ruling that now applies across the board, the pressure may come in the form of lawsuits, court costs, fines, firings, businesses and institutions forced to close, and even prison.
Parents will have little recourse when their children are taught that same-sex marriage is good and traditional marriage is bigoted. Already many county clerks have had to resign because they in good conscience could not issue marriage licenses to homosexuals.
Pastors will have an exemption from having to perform same-sex weddings for the time being, but the tax-exempt status of steadfast churches will likely be challenged. Updates to church constitutions may be helpful, but these are no guarantee when dealing with a new “constitutional right.” The hardest challenge may come to our dear Bethany Lutheran College. Federal money and grants, along with its tax-exempt status, will become issues as long as we teach and practice as we do. Not providing housing for same-sex married couples could be tested. So even with a clear confession of faith by our church body, college policies and practices could still be found to be unconstitutional.
The government could easily say, “We demand that your business, your job requirements, your words, your actions, your churches, your college be used to support the decision of the Supreme Court in spite of and contrary to your sacred beliefs.”
We are not used to this sort of thing in the Land of the Free. But it should not come as any great surprise, for Jesus has told us that as long as we live in the Church Militant we will be hated, persecuted, called names, and even delivered over to death (Matthew 10). So we remember that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). And this implies that we have already won, or, more accurately, that Jesus the Son has already won everything for us. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:32, 37). The nation we now live in is temporary. The Kingdom we have through faith in the crucified, risen, and ascended Savior is eternal. He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, where He rules all things for the good of the Church, even though we often can’t grasp how.
So we walk by faith in Jesus. And that includes confessing our sinfulness, a sinfulness that puts us in the same boat with any and all enemies. We claim no moral superiority. We are by nature, with everyone else, sinful and unclean. What we do claim is grace: that we are undeservedly cleansed by the blood of Christ in the waters of Baptism, comforted and sustained through the Gospel found in the Word and the other sacrament. This we trust, even as the world and Satan press hard against us.
And since we are in a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:12), we also fight, but not as the world fights (2 Corinthians 10:4–5). We hold to and faithfully teach the Word of God, especially to our children. We defend the Word of God—with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)—in our churches, college, seminary, and in the public square. We need to be ready to take lawful legal action to defend ourselves from wrongful intrusion by the government. But we also fight in another way: We love the very ones who oppose God’s Word, God’s Christ, and God’s children. We love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5). While they place before us the fiery furnace, we hold out to them a cup of water and, when the opportunity arises, the Water of Life for their salvation, for they are loved by the God of all mercy just as much as we are.
Therefore we pray, confessing our many sins and praising God for His free forgiveness. We pray for steadfastness, for we will be tempted to compromise when we shouldn’t and even deny our Lord. And we pray for our neighbor: our pastors, our churches, our synod, our nation, our governing authorities, and our enemies. And then we wait for the return of the King and the new heavens and the new earth.
Reverend David Thompson
Faith Lutheran Church
San Antonio, TX