Defining Marriage: Understanding Morality in Alabama

On Monday, February 9, 2015, hundreds of same sex couples across the state of Alabama will be getting married.  Alabama will thus become the 38th state where a homosexual couple can legally join in marriage.  Alabama changes forever on Monday and as Christians we must think through the implications of our new reality.  A biblical doctrine of marriage is something that we have talked about many times at Valleydale and Iron City Church, but the issue of same sex marriage can still be confusing as the Christian understanding of marriage is becoming more and more obscure in our culture.  Beyond this, it is one thing to think about something in an abstract way and something far different to address an issue directly.  If you are a Christian judge should you grant a marriage license to same sex couples? If you are a Christian florist or photographer should you provide your services for a same sex wedding? If you are a Christian neighbor should you attend a same sex wedding? Like it or not Monday changes the norm in Alabama.  So how do we need to think as we enter into this new world?

First of all, we need to understand theology.  It will not be a big surprise to any of you that the bible clearly condemns homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).  But it isn’t just important to understand that God condemns homosexuality, it is important to understand why God condemns homosexuality.  Is it because he is unloving, small minded, and out of touch?  Or, perhaps, do these verses show that the Bible really isn’t reliable or timeless?  Let me begin to answer that question by answering another one:  Why are Christians pro-life?  Christians aren’t pro-life because we hate women and want to take away their choices.  Christians are pro-life because we love life, and we love the vulnerable, and we believe that God has called us to defend those that cannot defend themselves.  In the same way, God isn’t against homosexual activity or homosexual marriage because he is insensitive, or because he hates people, or because he believes that people who have same sex attraction are second rate.  God condemns homosexual marriage because he loves marriage, and because he wants to protect marriage. God created marriage to display his character, and to be a picture of Christ and the church.  It is a sacred institution that God gave to humanity as a gift, and that he created to display his glory.  From the beginning of time marriage has been a monogamous, lifelong covenantal relationship between one man and one woman, and any variation of this is a distortion of God’s design.  And every component of marriage must be in place in order for marriage to do what it was designed by God to do.  Therefore, monogamy matters in marriage, “until death do us part” matters in marriage, and gender matters in marriage.  God purposely designed men as masculine and women as feminine, in order that they may complement one another in this sacred union.  Thus, Christians cannot recognize or support homosexual marriage, not because we are against homosexual people, but because we are for marriage, and for God’s specific and glorious design of marriage.

Secondly, we need to understand morality.  People wrongly assume that if something is legal then it must also be moral, but legality is not the starting place for morality, in fact it’s the other way around, morality should always be the foundation for the law or for what is legal.  A society is just and whole when its laws and governance of those laws reflect the law and governance of God.  The question behind any law should never be what do the people want, but rather should always be what is true.   Therefore, good law makers must try to determine what is eternally true and create laws for a state that reflect the law of God.  This law of God has been called natural law and this idea is at the core of our Nation’s founding.  While no society’s laws have ever been a true reflection of God’s law, the laws of marriage have for most of world history been protected at least as they pertain to gender and sexuality.  Homosexuality isn’t new, adultery isn’t new, casual heterosexual sex isn’t new, but no society has recognized these distortions of God’s design for sexuality as grounds for changing the definition of marriage until now.  Alabama’s new reality on Monday doesn’t change what is and what isn’t moral, but does cause a deeper division between the eternal law of God and the very temporal laws of the state.

Thirdly, we need to understand humanity.  As I write, I approach you not as a man who has all of the answers, or as a man who has the market cornered on morality.  I approach you as a fellow sinner in need of God’s grace.  Every man and woman north of puberty has perverted God’s design for sexuality in some way or another, and that certainly applies to me.  My own passions and desires certainly do not always line up with God’s order and rhythm, but by his grace I have learned to see the beauty of his design.  He truly is all wise and all loving, and his plans for my life and for all of humanity are truly best.  Therefore my whole life is one of trying to take hold of him, who through Christ has taken hold of me.  If you are reading this article as someone who has same sex attractions, or as someone who identifies yourself as a gay man or a lesbian woman, my position before you is one of humility and love.  None of us can trust our hearts desires to tell us what is right and wrong, we need something or someone who is bigger than we are to lead us in all truth.  The good news for all of us is that God has spoken to broken sinners, he has revealed his glorious truth in his eternal word of truth and more than that, he has sent Jesus to pay for all of our sins on the cross and to call us into a healed life in him.  So as we enter into this new reality for our state and for our church let’s approach one another, both those in the church and those outside of the church, as men and women standing at the foot of the cross of Jesus in need of his voice and in need of his grace.

Finally, we need to understand Jesus.  Alabama may be changing on Monday but the truth of Jesus is not.  God’s design for sex and marriage is still the best, no matter what the law may say.  And God’s love for us is deeper than any love that we could have for one another.  A friend of mine who lived many years as a gay man who eventually came to faith in Christ and came to love God’s understanding of sex and marriage once said to me, “people never exchange a relationship for an ideology, people exchange a relationship for a relationship.”  His testimony was that he had exchanged many meaningful relationships in the gay community for an even deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus, and when he got to know Jesus he came to love his commands.  If you are reading this article as a gay man or a lesbian woman I know that I can’t argue you into faith in Christ and a love for his word.  If you have a child or friend who is a homosexual they are not likely to be swayed by your reasoning and argumentation.  This is not to say that good reasoning and knowledge of God’s truth is not important, it is to say that knowledge, reasoning, and argumentation never really changes people.  What does change a person is beauty, and what changes the heart is love.  Therefore my prayer for our state, for our church, and for my own life is that we would see the beauty of Jesus, come to know his deep love in a relationship with him, and from there come to desire his perfect truth.

Reflections From Sunday

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Image by Robert S. Donovan / CC BY-NC 2.0

I am so grateful for the ministry of Russell Moore. His leadership at Southern Seminary and the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission have been both courageous and gracious. This week, however, I am most grateful for his ministry at my own church, Valleydale Church, in Birmingham, AL. Dr. Moore preached at Valleydale on Sunday from Luke 4:16-31 on the what, the who, and the why of the Kingdom. Dr. Moore told our church that Jesus came to inaugurate the Kingdom, and that the church now is a preview, or a picture, of the eternal Kingdom of Christ that is to come. So, in the eternal Kingdom of Christ there will be peace, unity, righteousness, and honesty. So, my question to us as a congregation is, “Is the world seeing an accurate or inaccurate depiction of the Kingdom and eternity through Valleydale?” What do we need to do to insure that the Kingdom becomes a reality among us?

I think it happens when we begin to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our minds, and all of our strength, and when we begin to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It happens when we get more focused on Jesus and His Kingdom than we are on ourselves and our kingdom. It happens when we approach the church as a place to serve and not just as a place to be served. It happens when we care more about discipleship than we do about comfort. None of this is natural, and none of us will do any of this until we are, in the words of Dr. Moore, “changed by the voice of Jesus speaking to our hearts in the gospel message.”

Dr. Moore also taught us about the who of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not just for the jew, but also for the gentile. In Luke 4, Jesus went out of His way to tell the people of Nazareth that God was pursuing people that were even hostile towards Israel (the chosen people of God) because He wanted to save them. When you look at Valleydale, we are predominantly a white, well-educated, Christian-background kind of church. In some ways that is reflective of our neighborhood, but in some ways it is a reflection of our desire for comfort. We like people who are like us, and while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, there is something in the heart of God that desires something more. God is calling people who are far from Him from every corner of the earth to come together around His eternal throne. When we really begin to see the heart of God and get a vision for the things of God, I believe that God will give us a heart for people who aren’t like us, and a picture of the eternal Kingdom will begin to form. If you are only comfortable around people who look like you and have the same background as you, then you wouldn’t be comfortable with Jesus, and you won’t be comfortable in his eternal Kingdom.

Lastly, Dr. Moore spoke to us about the why of the Kingdom. Why? Because we, like Christ, are on a mission – His mission. We are being shaped to be kings and queens in the universe that is to come, but for now we are called to carry a cross. He calls us to sacrifice today’s desires and tomorrow’s goals for His desires and His ultimate goal for our lives in His Kingdom. God is producing something that is so glorious in His grand scheme – something so much bigger than what we can see and touch in the here and now. If you only have a 5-year or even a 75-year view of your life, then Christianity makes no sense. But, if you have a ten-thousand year view, trusting in the timeless and glorious plan of God, then it becomes irresistibly beautiful. I pray that God would give us such a long view of His Kingdom and that even through pain, heartache, and difficulty we would stay faithful to Jesus for His glory and for the hope of His eternal Kingdom.