The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 June 26 that states cannot ban same-sex marriage and must recognize such marriages licensed in other states. As Southern Baptist pastors and ministry leaders across Texas and the nation processed the ruling’s implications, they reaffirmed the role of the church in America that is increasingly antagonistic to biblical Christianity.
Calling the decision disheartening but unsurprising, Southern Baptist leaders said the ruling could bring to the fore additional attempts to redefine marriage, legal challenges to churches and religious ministries that do not comply with the new standard, and opportunities for the church to be a witness in the face of opposition. Jimmy Pritchard, pastor of FBC Forney and SBTC president, said the decision magnifies the need for a “fresh movement of God’s Spirit” to address the challenges ahead.
Criswell College President Barry Creamer told the TEXAN, “Because we have understood sexuality and marriage as personal fulfillment rather than a social identity and responsibility, these decisions (along with myriad others, including no-fault divorce) were practically inevitable.”
Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, agreed. In responding to the Supreme Court ruling, he said, “The logic of the decision grounds the definition and significance of marriage in the preferences of the individuals who want to enter into marriage. Although the decision acknowledges the longstanding history of marriage as a union of a man and a woman, the majority brushed aside that history in favor of the social whims of individuals.”
In a first-person piece titled “Chutzpah and the Supreme Court,” Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson was more succinct.
“Today’s anticipated decision is a decision of five people in a country of millions to call something right that God has already called wrong,” Patterson said.
Opposition to the ruling also came from the Texas capital. Moments after the ruling was announced, Gov. Greg Abbott Tweeted a statement, “Marriage was defined by God. No man can redefine it. We will defend our religious liberties.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked county clerks Thursday to hold off issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Uncertainty over whether the ruling immediately impacts all states or just those involved in the lawsuit prompted the statement.
In a press release issued the day before the ruling, Paxton said, “But whatever the ruling, I would recommend that all County Clerks and Justices of the Peace wait for direction and clarity from this office about the meaning of the Court’s opinion and the rights of Texans under the law.
But despite the call for caution, clerks in some Texas counties began issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately.
Social media exploded as soon as the ruling was read by Justice Kennedy. Cries of victory from homosexuals and LGBT advocates were matched by calls for prayer and faith in God’s sovereignty by those opposed to the ruling.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, Tweeted, “Marriage remains what God designed as his gift to humanity, the union of a man and a woman. Our society will now call something else marriage.”
Also on Twitter, author Eric Metaxas asked the slippery-slope question, “I also want to know precisely how the SCOTUS can define marriage as between 2 people? Does that arbitrary number come from the Constitution?”
In his dissent of the ruling Roberts wrote, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.”
He said those who gained a desired status by the courts ruling should celebrate that fact but “do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
In his majority opinion, Kennedy wrote of the evolving nature of marriage, such as women no longer given in arranged marriages or receiving social status only after marrying, and that “these new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution.”
Creamer begged to differ.
“The idea that marriage is stronger now than in the previous century or centuries can only make sense to someone with a worldview so skewed by individualism against social and community obligation that marriage itself has changed in meaning to him,” Creamer said.
But as the culture luxuriates in the new paradigm, Creamer said faithful Christians will only become more identifiable as social outliers making “moral education in biblical ministry environments both more challenging and more significant.”
As fidelity to biblical sexuality and marriage will make Christians more recognizable in the community and thereby open opportunities for sharing the gospel, it can also make them targets for social ridicule or legal action.
In his dissent, Roberts stated, “It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s ‘better informed understanding’ as bigoted.”
“[Roberts] warns that future conflicts regarding the free exercise of religion will arise,” Lenow said. “This is echoed in a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post in which the ACLU declares that it can no longer support the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Arguing that the 1993 federal RFRA was intended to assist religious expression that “does no harm to anyone else,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a twisted view of religious liberty, wrote, “It’s time for Congress to amend the RFRA so that it cannot be used as a defense for discrimination. Religious freedom will be undermined only if we continue to tolerate and enable abuses in its name.”
Melling said RFRA has been used as “a sword to discriminate against women, gay and transgender people and others.”
Paxton said it is the advocates for marriage equality who have sought to discriminate against those who hold to the traditional view of marriage.
“This ruling will likely only embolden those who seek to punish people who take personal, moral stands based upon their conscience and the teachings of their religion,” Paxton said in a press release following the ruling.
For Patterson, religious liberty could be the next domino to fall.
“The critical issue that many recognize is the future of religious liberty,” Patterson said. “In fact, without religious liberty, people are not really free at all.”
Although he painted a similarly bleak picture of cultural repercussions stemming from the ruling, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote now is not the time for Christians to panic or express outrage.
“Despite this ruling, the church of Jesus Christ will stand fast,” Moore said in a statement released by the ERLC. “We will not capitulate on this issue because we cannot. To minimize or ignore a Christian sexual ethic is to abandon the message Jesus handed down to us, and we have no authority to do this.”
The commission issued an Evangelical Declaration of Marriage signed by mor than 100 evangelical leaders. It is an en masse dissention of the Supreme Court ruling and reiterates the biblical doctrine of marriage and human sexuality. Others are invited to sign it at erlc.com/erlc/herewestand.
Although Southern Baptist leaders admit the SCOTUS decision has disconcerting implications for the church and individual Christians they said “good riddance” to a cultural Christianity that brought people into the church and in line with a Judeo-Christian ethic but not into the kingdom of Christ. Many have emphasized the fact that the church has often flourished when it is in opposition to the culture.
“I see this as an opportunity for the church to be a city set on a hill,” Lenow said. “Therefore, the church will have to stand with conviction on the truth of God’s Word against the changing tide of culture. No longer will people want to identify with our churches for social reasons—they will join us because of what we believe.”
Creamer said, “Churches must begin to demonstrate extraordinary religion, one out of step with the broader culture, both in the level of kindness and grace with which every person is received and served by the community of the gospel, and in the conviction and purity with which the actual members of the body of Christ are identified.”
Pritchard said the most important thing Christians can do now is pray.
“It is time to extend the gospel to all. It is time to stand on Truth,” Pritchard said. “This can be our opportunity to let our light shine brightly into the deepening darkness.”
Voting for the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges were Supreme Court Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, and Elena Kagan. Dissenting were Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts.
Read the majority opinion and dissenting arguments here.