Court decisions overturning same sex marriage bans in several states have not ended the issue for many churches, whose Biblical beliefs compel them to take a stand, potential legal consequences notwithstanding. Gay rights’ activists deny that people’s religious beliefs are at stake, however evangelical leaders find it disturbing that governmental agencies seem to be taking steps to override an individual’s sincere moral convictions by forcing them to participate in, or approve of, activities that violate their consciences or pay the consequences. Many church leaders and government officials in states where gay marriage has been legalized by the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals on cases seeking to reinstate overturned bans have shown themselves resolute in the face of demands to bow to the social pressures that contradict what they see as the Bible’s clear teaching on the issue of homosexuality.
Russell D. Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, considers the debate far from settled, regardless of the wave of same sex marriages resulting from the courts’ decisions in the last few weeks. Some Christian magistrates in North Carolina have resigned their positions rather than disregard their moral convictions by performing marriages they believe have no scriptural support or backing. Executive director Chris Sgro of Equality NC, a North Carolina nonprofit LGBT advocacy group, rebuffs the idea that they are taking away anyone’s right to hold religious beliefs. He and other gay rights proponents see same sex marriage as just part of the job description. Nonetheless, Moore expresses concern for the religious liberties of any American who is compelled to go along with something they truly believe is wrong in order to placate another group’s demand for affirmation of their lifestyle. He asserts that people and churches should have the right to stand up for their beliefs and decline to participate in matters that would offend their scruples.
After one magistrate declined to perform a ceremony for two men, a state directive in North Carolina warned county officials that refusing to cooperate in performing same sex marriages would result in suspension or dismissal for violating their oath of office. Magistrate John Kallam, Jr. of Rockingham County, N.C., resigned rather than compromise his faith, stating in his letter of resignation that no indication of the expectation to perform gay marriages was included in his oath, and that to do so would dishonor the God-ordained institution of holy marriage. Chief District Judge Fred Wilkins, who received the resignation, and Bill Duke, the pastor of Reidsville First Baptist Church, both acknowledge Kallam as an honorable and principled man, worthy of commendation for not being afraid to stand up for his convictions.
Many evangelical churches are similarly holding firm on their “one man, one woman” definition of marriage in refusing to perform any same sex marriages regardless of the legal consequences stemming from the court decisions. Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church says that their policy on heterosexual marriages only stands unchanged. He expects that churches will be erecting legal protections for themselves against government mandated policies on their relationships with the LGBT community. The controversy has compelled much ongoing discussion in many churches regarding how to blend Biblical truth about traditional marriage with loving and caring for all people while calling them to repentance.
Contrary to popular opinion, most Christians do not wish harm or mistreatment upon LGBT individuals. Many church leaders are in agreement with the Rev. Melissa Pratt of the Teays Valley Church of God in seeking the entire counsel of the Word of God and finding a consistent message that human sexuality is designed to be one man and one woman in the covenant relationship of marriage. The Baptist Press News urges evangelical Christians to exercise compassion, love, respect and dignity of every person regardless of different lifestyles and opinions on the same sex marriage issue. Their integrity in pursuing Biblical truth compels them to object to gay marriage while still loving the people with whom they disagree. Far from the fanatical homophobes that they are often portrayed to be, many churches, even those that will not back down from their decisions on same sex marriage, feel the weight of safeguarding the integrity of their Christian practice and are exhibiting strength in taking a stand for Truth and looking for ways to engage in dialogue with gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender individuals to persuade them gently with love rather than condemnation.
Opinion by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
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