July-August 2015 – “Our church is not doing a gay wedding!” It’s a common cry among pastors and church leaders, but the truth is that many will face incredible pressure in coming years to perform the rites or face tough legal challenges.
Churches who hold a biblical view of marriage have asked AFA how to prepare for the day they are asked to perform a homosexual marriage. That is an urgent question, especially in any state that has legalized homosexual marriage or defined gender preference as a protected status under its nondiscrimination laws. Even if your state does not have gay marriage yet, your church may want to take some prudent steps to protect itself.
God calls His church to be salt and light, proclaim truth, demonstrate grace, refuse to compromise with evil, and, as much as possible, obey the government. A congregation can respond to God’s call while safeguarding its religious liberty through three areas of preparation regarding society’s normalization of homosexuality. Here are three suggestions:
Adopt statements declaring biblical truth regarding human sexuality and marriage.
The Bible tells us that man and woman were created by God as distinct acts of creation, and that being male and female was an aspect of how they were created in His own image (Genesis 1:27 and 2:7, 18-19). Marriage is the joining of these distinct genders into one flesh. Thus marriage is between one man and one woman. Further, the Bible teaches that while sex within marriage is pure and honorable, sex outside marriage is sinful and will be judged by God (Hebrews 13:4). The seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” protects the sexual relationship between a man and woman who are united in marriage by forbidding marital infidelity, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, bestiality, and the use of pornography (Exodus 20:14).
Outside biblical marriage, God’s standard for sex is celibacy, saying “no” to both heterosexual and homosexual lusts (Matthew 5:27-30). Celibacy is a gift of God that allows the unmarried to live a life of purity and contentment, so that a person does not have to engage in sex to have a full and satisfying life (1 Corinthians 7:7-9).
Homosexual behavior is sinful and unnatural (Romans 1:24-28). Like other sexual temptations to sin, homosexual lust is highly addictive and difficult to stop. Although God’s grace is sufficient to forgive and cleanse from all sin, that does not guarantee that a “forgiven and cleansed” homosexual will develop heterosexual feelings. Still, he or she may live a celibate life (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Clarify that the essence of a Christian wedding is the worship of God, not a civil function.
Marriage has three essential characteristics. First, God instituted marriage as a natural common grace available to all people, at all times, in all places. It is available not only to Christians, but to all people (Genesis 2:24).
Second, biblical marriage is a lifelong covenant or sacrament between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6). Biblical marriage promotes the bearing and rearing of children and exercise of stewardship over creation (Genesis 1:27-28). The essence of a Christian wedding is the Divine blessing of the bride and groom as they exchange vows while God receives the worship of the congregation as they witness those vows and as they offer Him prayer and praise.
Third, marriage is also a legal or civil status licensed by government. Throughout history, governments have given marriage special civil status to protect the orderly bearing and rearing of the next generation of citizens.
During the traditional American wedding, a minister performs both a religious function and a government function simultaneously. He leads a worship service and then doubles as a representative of the government. At the end of the service, the minister says, “By the power vested in me by the State of ___________, I now pronounce you man and wife.” He then signs the government’s marriage license.
The roots of this “preacher as double-agent” practice are deep in our history as an English colony. The Anglican Church still combines church and state. Unlike Great Britain, however, in most European and Latin American countries, a church wedding is strictly a service of religious worship. Government recognition of the marriage occurs at a different time and place.
If your state has legally changed its definition of marriage to include same sex couples, the “preacher as double-agent” aspect of American wedding tradition is likely to cause problems in the future. It will sound reasonable to the public when the government says that no person who acts as an agent of the state may discriminate against homosexual couples. If the law of your state prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it will be easy to sue the preacher for illegal discrimination if yesterday he acted as a state agent in marrying a heterosexual couple, but today he refuses to act as a state agent in marrying a homosexual couple. However, it would be a much larger leap and clear violation of religious liberty for the state to dictate who can participate in a strictly religious rite.
While AFA is not officially recommending such a step at this point, some churches might consider separating the Christian and civil marriage formalities. Biblical marriage would take place in a worship service. The couple would also go to a government office and handle the state licensing and registration function, but the two would be independent of one another. Conducting church weddings without intermixing the civil function should remove the greatest risk that a state will attempt to coerce a church to perform a homosexual marriage ceremony.
Refrain from renting your facilities for any use that is not closely related to the church’s religious purpose.
A business that provides public accommodation cannot violate nondiscrimination laws. In recent years, Christian bakers, photographers, florists, and a camp-meeting association have been prosecuted for refusing to provide services or facilities for gay weddings. These Christians, who believed in natural marriage, were prosecuted on the basis that they conducted businesses providing public accommodations.
Therefore, if your church rents its facilities for private or community purposes not directly related to its religious functions, there is a risk your church could be classified as a public accommodation. In that case, if you live in a state that has legalized gay marriage, you may be required to rent your facilities for a homosexual couple’s wedding. Your congregation can adopt a policy that it will only rent its facilities for uses closely related to its religious mission, or only use those facilities for church members in good standing.
Homosexual activists have fought doggedly for the legalization of gay marriage, hoping that if society will label their relationships “marriage,” their hunger to feel accepted and approved will be satisfied. However, gay marriage will not mask a homosexual’s sense of alienation for long, because that alienation arises from the temptation all people face – rebellion against God and His created order.
Homosexuals’ misplaced hope in gay marriage is likely to leave gay activists even more belligerent toward people who label their sexual behavior as sin. The tortuous predicament in which the legalization of homosexual marriage entraps homosexuals with false hope calls for holy and merciful responses from Christ’s church. Still, churches do have options to take measures to protect their religious freedom, even as they minister in Christ’s love.