A Pastoral Letter from the Session to the Congregation of St. Petersburg Presbyterian Church in Response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

Dr. David HardingWater From the Wells

Dear SPPC Family,

Your Session is writing to offer our perspective on the Supreme Court’s decision last Friday to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Our motivation comes from the Bible’s directive that the elders are to shepherd (feed, protect) the church of God, which He bought with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Our aim is to put this event in Biblical perspective, seeking to help you think, feel and act according to what God says in His Word, rather than from sinful emotion, worldly desires or any other framework.

Last Friday, June 26, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, and to recognize such a marriage when it was licensed and performed in another State. The Court’s majority has “discovered” in the Constitution a fundamental right for homosexual couples to marry, and imposed that “right” on all 50 states. From a moral and legal standpoint, what the Supreme Court has done is to render a decision that ranks next to the Dred Scott ruling of 1857, and the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, as one of the worst in its history. In the Dred Scott case, the Court ruled that black people were not fully human and would not be treated as such. In the Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court institutionalized the murder of unborn babies in their mother’s wombs as the law of the land. What happened on Friday is that five unelected lawyers preempted the Constitution’s defined legislative process, and acted as a legislative body themselves, imposing on the American people their own arbitrary will regarding the definition of marriage.

In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts wrote,

Judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.” 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. The majority expressly disclaims judicial “caution” and omits even a pretense of humility, openly relying on its desire to remake society according to its own “new insight” into the “nature of injustice.” The Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia…Just who do we think we are?[1]

Dr. Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, writes that the Court’s majority has made the Fourteenth Amendment, “say what the formulators and electorate (and nearly everyone else for the century-and-a-half that followed) never even dreamed it could say, in order to reconfigure an institution grounded in the Scriptures and natural law long before the Constitution and its amenders ever existed. We have come to a point where the country is ruled by an unelected, unresponsive, and ideologically arbitrary oligarchy.”[2]

The logical conclusion of the Supreme Court’s ruling is that there are now no brakes which can be applied to the meaning of marriage. There are all kinds of unions that we might imagine as possible under this redefinition. Marriage, as cultures have known and practiced it for thousands of years, is now virtually unintelligible, and it will only grow more so. Given enough time, anything is possible.

It is not a shrill overstatement to say that this decision significantly threatens the civil and religious liberties of Americans who oppose so-called same-sex marriage, and that the ruling actually damages the lives of those it intends to help. We should be prepared for vitriolic outrage, and worse, to any opposing view to this decision. Justice Alito, in his dissent, warned that the decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. The implications [of comparing traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women] will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”[3] This response should not surprise us, however. Those who hold to a Biblical view of marriage must be prepared to articulate and defend their views, and to dispel misinformation with clarity and grace.

As a pastor, I will not officiate, or take part in any way, in a same-sex wedding ceremony. To do so would violate my conscience, which is held captive to the Word of God. It would also violate my ordination vows, in which I promised to remain faithful to the Scriptures and the gospel it declares. Our church will not host such ceremonies in our facilities. Our refusal to endorse so-called same-sex marriage does not flow from hatred of homosexuals, but from love for them, as that love is defined by God in His Word. Biblical love, which is grounded in the character of God (1 John 4:7-8), is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

The Court’s decision is not an act of love, contrary to what those who support it are saying, namely, that “love has won”. This is an unloving, unjust and harmful decision, and therefore, not something to rejoice in. This is a national tragedy over which we should mourn and grieve. The Supreme Court has declared as the universal law of the land that which God’s Word expressly declares as sin. The Court has lived out Romans 1:32, which says, Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” It is hateful, not loving to give others approval to do what we know would lead to their death. That is what the Court has done. Therefore, we do not rejoice and celebrate this decision. We reject it. We weep over it. This should lead us to consider, mourn and weep over our own sins, and run to Jesus for the grace and mercy of His forgiveness promised in the gospel.

At the end of the day, the Court’s decision and the issue of so-called same-sex marriage are ultimately questions of authority. This is the root issue. Who has the authority, if anyone, to proscribe how you and I behave sexually? Who has the authority, if anyone, to define what marriage is and what it isn’t? God alone reserves the right to tell His creatures what is best for them in every area of life. God has spoken finally and sufficiently on all these matters in His Word, the Bible, and we must submit our lives to this Word. 

As I said on Sunday morning, a lot has changed in our culture with Friday’s ruling. Yet, from a Biblical perspective, nothing has changed. As we seek to lead Christ’s flock, your elders are always asking, “What does the Bible say about this?” We want you to be a congregation of Christ-followers who are always asking that question about all of life’s issues, and searching the Scriptures yourselves, like the Bereans of Acts 17:10-11, to find the answers. The following are some Biblical affirmations (certainly not exhaustive) which are aimed at encouraging us as a congregation to respond to the present circumstances, and all of life, with faithfulness to Christ, no matter what.    

God has not changed. God is infinite and eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, grace, truth and love. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, we will continue to worship and love the true and living God, in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

God’s Word has not changed. The Bible, not the U.S. Supreme Court, or any other human institution, is our ultimate authority on marriage, sexuality, and every other issue in life (Isaiah 40:8;  Psalm 119:89; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, we will continue to preach and teach the Bible as God’s unchanging Word, seeking to obey it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s will concerning marriage has not changed. God’s design for marriage is a life-long, one-flesh union between one man and one woman, each being a unique, sexually complementary creation of God (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:18-24; Malachi 2:15; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9). This marital union between one man and one woman is a living illustration of the holy covenant and mysterious union that exists between Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Therefore, we will continue to hold this Biblical view of marriage and call one another to flee sexual immorality of all kinds, and to pursue righteousness and holiness along with all those who call on the Lord Jesus from a pure heart (1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:22).

God’s Word concerning sexual sin, including homosexual sex, has not changed. (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:18-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Jude 5-7). These texts all speak about homosexual sex being an abomination, against nature, and deserving the wrath of God. Therefore, we will continue to say what God says about this and all sin, no matter the cost.

God’s promise of forgiveness to repentant sinners has not changed. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). This text, among others, shows that contrary to popular belief, homosexuality is not inherent like race or gender. It is a sinful choice of which we must and can repent, and which God promises to forgive. Therefore, we will continue to call people to repentance, holding out the free offer of God’s lavish forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

God’s purpose for the church to make disciples of all nations has not changed (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). The church has not been called to seek political reform or even cultural transformation, primarily. Our primary calling is to proclaim and practice the gospel in all spheres of life. Any political or social transformation that God brings about will be the fruit of the gospel’s power at work in the lives of His people where they live, work and play. Therefore, we will continue to pray and work for a culture of discipleship among God’s people, for the glory of Christ and for the salvation of our neighbors and the nations.

God’s promise that His children will be persecuted has not changed. Persecution is normal for the Christian. Jesus promised it would be this way. (Luke 24:10-17; John 15:20). If the world hates us, it is because it hates Jesus, to whom we belong. If the world loves us, it is not because we are relevant or smart, but because we actually belong to the world and not Christ. Therefore, when we are persecuted for Jesus’ sake, we will not be surprised by it, as though something strange were happening to us. Rather, we will rejoice insofar as we share Christ’s sufferings, so that we may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13; Matthew 5:11-12).

God’s command to love our neighbors has not changed (Matthew 22:39). Lest we, like the Pharisees, ask who our neighbor is whom we must love, let us remember Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and live as the kind of neighbor we would want to have (Luke 10:25-37). The Bible also commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Biblical love is not unconditional affirmation of a person’s lifestyle. It involves calling sin what it is and telling people to repent, regardless of the cost (James 5:19-20). Therefore, we will continue to call one another to live in such a way that shows the power and beauty of Christ’s love to a lost world.

The certainty of Christ’s victory over all His enemies has not changed. Jesus is building His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). The U.S. Supreme Court will not have the final word, nor will any other enemy which sets itself against Christ and His Bride. Nothing will succeed in defeating God’s purposes, any more than death defeated Jesus (Isaiah 46:8-10; 54:16-17; Romans 8:28-39; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57). The Lord Jesus Christ is the King of all kings, and His kingdom and reign are forever. Therefore, we will continue to live in glad, hope-filled dependence upon our sovereign God over all things. We will not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap everlasting joy, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9-10).

Therefore, dear flock, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true, and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:1-20).

 

For Christ and His Kingdom,

 

Pastor Dave, On Behalf of the Session

[1] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf (from Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent)

[2] http://www.robgagnon.net/homosexSCOTUSgaymarriage.htm (from an article by Dr. Gagnon)

[3] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf (from Justice Alito’s dissent)