Same-sex Marriage: Contending in the Church (Part 3)

February 14, 2013

Part 3
by Jenny Abel

That our society is confused and divided on the issue of same-sex marriage (and homosexuality generally) is no wonder when you consider the tremendous amount of confusion and division just within the church. Even for those of us who may be quite clear on God’s standards for sexuality and marriage, often we are not as clear about how to translate those beliefs into our everyday actions and conversations. We often avoid the issue like the plague, and if we don’t ignore it altogether, we at least dance all around it out of fear of seeming ungracious, unloving, or unfair. We also grow weary of the controversy and wonder (along with many others in our society), Why must we fixate on the topic of sex? Can’t we just focus on preaching the Gospel?

Even as many of us have dithered or turned our heads, a revisionist theology and agenda have invaded many of our churches, seeking to distort the Word of God and advancing teachings—about sexuality and other issues—that are contrary to the meaning of His Word and historical church teaching. (See more here.) This agenda piggybacks on and often works in sync with efforts outside the church. The assertions often sound quite biblical: equal treatment, love, acceptance, and support for all? Of course! Jesus wanted those things, and we should too. At face value, we agree. Christianity has always been about coming alongside the downtrodden, the weak, the marginalized, and the rejected, and giving them help and hope.

The problem is that the vague, religious-sounding language obscures the underlying intentions: acceptance and support for what and shown how? For behavior that God says is sinful and thus harmful to mind, body, and soul? Shown by ignoring or embracing sin as though it were not? This is not love by the biblical definition. It would be similar to bumping into a drug addict on the street and, upon noticing his/her  needle-pricked arms, looking him/her in the eyes and saying, “Don’t worry, I support and affirm your decision to do drugs.” In this situation, it’s not hard for many of us to see how it’s possible to both love, care for, and support the person while not affirming behavior that we believe is wrong and harmful. While we must always remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and only speak when and in the way He calls us to, we certainly are never supposed to verbally and consciously affirm a sinful behavior or lifestyle.

Where Do We Go from Here?

So we could use some clarity on this issue within the church. But how do we get there? Here are two things I think we can do to become better witnesses on this topic—to our fellow Christians  and to the wider world:

1. Address this issue with openness and honesty; stop avoiding controversy at all costs.

Consider these words of Martin Luther:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.[1]

Luther and so many godly men and women of the past followed the admonition of the book of Jude to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (verse 3). This defense of the Gospel does not only concern matters of theology but also matters of how we live, love, and relate to one another. These matters are just as much a part of the Gospel: We are not just saved from death and eternal condemnation, but we are saved for eternal life, beginning now—receiving His healing in our individual and relational brokenness.

Controversy may rage when we speak up, but—contrary to our postmodern conditioning—this is not necessarily a bad thing, as John Piper points out in his book Contending for Our All (the fourth of his The Swans Are Not Silent series). Controversy has occurred throughout New Testament and church history, followed in many cases by genuine revival among God’s people.

“Some controversy is crucial for the sake of life-giving truth,” Piper says. “Running from it is a sign of cowardice. But enjoying it is usually a sign of pride.” So, while we should not look for controversy or become quarrelsome (2 Timothy 2:23–25), we should by the same token not be afraid to stand up for and lovingly communicate His “life-giving truth.”

2. Provide a positive vision and example.

I’ll never forget this statement by a teacher I had a number of years ago: “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality but holiness.” The idea of holiness transcends sexual orientation and brings us more into alignment with God’s design for healthy sexuality; this idea of holiness involves all who struggle with sin, including sexual sin of any kind.

Before the same-sex marriage issue became front and center, the institution of marriage was already in crisis because of the church’s growing acceptance of divorce, especially no-fault divorce. (Those of us born in the ’80s and ’90s can’t remember a time when divorce could be achieved only by showing “fault” or wrongdoing—such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment—on the part of the other spouse; however, such was the case prior to the 1980s in most states and prior to 1970 in California, the first state to implement no-fault divorce.) Today, one growing threat to the institution of marriage is the spread of pornography. If we take what God’s word says about homosexuality seriously, we should take just as seriously what it says about divorce, lust, pornography, adultery, and every other sexual sin.

A common piece of parenting advice is that you should not only tell your children what not to do, but also what to do. I think in the debate over homosexuality, we would do well as Christians to take note of this advice. We can speak, preach, and pray against certain sinful behaviors until we’re blue in the face, but until we communicate, verbally and in our lives, a beautiful and inspiring vision of the alternative, our efforts will be largely in vain. If one-man/one-woman marriage really is the gold standard, we need to demonstrate it. We must give the world not just something to dislike or disapprove but something to savor and aspire to.

In the final post of this series, we’ll talk about contending for marriage in the public sphere.



[1] Quoted in John Piper, Contending for Our All (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books for Desiring God Foundation, 2006), 36.

  • Sue

    Marriage, something to “savor and aspire to” well said!
    Thank you for your helpful explanation.

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