On Sunday I read a pastoral letter to my congregation about the recent Supreme Court Decision. I share it here in hopes that it will edify you as well.
“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,
always being prepared to make a defense to anyone
who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15
Pastoral Letter on “Obergefell v. Hodges” Supreme Court Decision June 26th, 2015
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters of Grace Covenant,
This past Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was a legal right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the slim majority (5-4) held that “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize [such] a marriage . . . performed out-of-State.” In making this ruling the Supreme Court overturned the historically held, biblical boundaries of marriage.
While many are celebrating this decision publically and throughout social media, we ought to respond with thoughtful reflection, fervent prayer, clear talking points, and above all gracious interaction. Our denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church issued a statement following the Supreme Court ruling. It reads as follows:
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church grieves today’s ruling of the Supreme Court, which illustrates the continued disregard for the biblical, traditional, Judeo-Christian values upon which the foundation of our nation was established. As a church, we continue to rest our faith in the sovereign God and the authority of His Holy Word. We pray faithfully for our nation and our leaders as so commanded by Scripture.
We bear no malice toward those with a same-sex attraction; in fact, we love them with the love of Christ. However, as a church we must adhere to the biblical definition of marriage, rather than a cultural one.
We recognize that civil governments adopt policies that do not align with biblical values. However, those policies must never require that people of faith abandon the clear teaching of Scripture, forfeit the right to proclaim those truths, or change their beliefs or practices.
As your pastor, I offer the following points to clarify how we may continue to engage graciously and winsomely with people in the culture around us.
- Those who identify as LGBT are not hated by us. Dissent or even disapproval of a view or a life-style is not hatred. In fact, we renounce any person who speaks hatefully to fellow image bearers, or who acts in an unlawful manner toward people who claim LGBT as their identity. The Lord Jesus has taught us to love our enemies. While some LGBT advocates may stand against us as our enemies, we love them and pray for them.
- Yet expressing Jesus’ love to who identify as LGBT does not mean condoning their practices or lifestyle. We are called to obey Paul’s words to Timothy: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24) Our role is to speak the truth in love toward the LGBT community.
- Christian love implies that we hold forth the gospel to all, including those who self-identify as LGBT. Through the gospel all who yield to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith are forgiven of all sin and then empowered to forsake sin in thought, word, and behavior. Throughout our entire lifetime, we must all fight the presence of indwelling sin, but we do so with the resources of God’s word, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and fellowship with other believers to help us live righteous lives.
- “The gospel . . . is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) In Jesus Christ, “. . . the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. (Titus 2:11-12)
- Furthermore, we ourselves should live out the beautiful vision of truth in our own lives first and foremost. As Mohler has written, “We are also commanded to uphold the truth about marriage in our own lives, in our own marriages, in our own families, and in our own churches.”
- Also, we need to have great care and compassion when talking about the nature of sexual identity, sexual attraction, and sexual practice. Regardless of what ones orientation is, scripture teaches that any form of lust toward a person who is not your biblically defined marriage partner is sin. The gospel helps us to mortify sin in our sinful nature.
- As the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ we are called to provide a safe place through radical community where anyone, regardless of their sins or temptations, can count on others to speak the truth in love, pray for one another, care for one another, weep together over brokenness and sin, and look upward to a faithful redeeming Savior. It doesn’t matter what that sin is, whether it is sexual sin, or greed, or drunkenness, or any other sin, believers are always welcome to work on our common goal of sanctification by the power of the holy gospel of Jesus Christ in community.
- “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2) This is our responsibility as the priesthood of all believers.
- Followers of Christ are called to speak compellingly about the glorious vision of God-given human sexuality and the institution of marriage—even if unpopular or unwanted. If the previous point claimed that the gospel gives us a priestly calling, this point claims that followers of Christ have a prophetic calling.
- The prophet’s role is often a lonely one. He or she is called to stand for the revealed truth of the Word of the Lord. Sometimes this means speaking to the civil sphere as Elijah did to King Ahab. Sometimes this means speaking to rulers as Nathan did when David sinned. Sometimes it even means speaking to religious leaders as Isaiah did to the people of Judah in Jerusalem. A prophet’s work is never pleasant, but when God speaks, it is like a fire in the bones and the Word must be delivered regardless of the consequences—censure, reproach, or even imprisonment. The example of the Apostles in the early church is a model as well. After being told by the authorities not to speak in the name of Jesus, they replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20 HSCB)
The following are points are truths we affirm about marriage and sexual identity from scripture.
- Men and women are made in God’s image, as male and female (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 139:13-16) This means that sex is not merely assigned at birth, but is assigned by our creator. A person is born a male or female in their physical body and they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Their body is a good gift from God. Any aberration from this, whether real or perceived, is a result of our fallen condition.
- Marriage is a holy institution ordained by God at the beginning of creation (Genesis 2:18-25) and a picture of the relationship between Christ and his holy bride, the Church, both now and in the new creation (Revelation 19:6-9; 21:1-2) Marriage is not an invention of mankind. Marriage is God’s design and he has the authority to define it’s purpose, limits, and context. Furthermore, marriage matters because it is not only designed for human society, but is itself a picture of the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the church. Those who redefine marriage destroy a precious portrait that our creator has painted for his own glory. We should be grieved over any sin which harms any marriage: adultery, abuse, desertion, divorce, fornication, etc.
- Marriage is a life-long covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6) Contrary to popular statements, Jesus did explicitly and unequivocally speak against same sex marriage. His words could not be clearer. In answering questions about marriage, Jesus says, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
- The Bible regulates that sexual activity may occur exclusively within the context of marriage, properly defined (Leviticus 18:1-23; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 7:1-16).
Our confession states that human courts can and do err (see The Westminster Confession of Faith 31:3). In this case we believe that the Supreme Court has erred. For now it is the law of the land. But this is not the final word. This decision will be judged by history and judged by the Lord of history. In the meantime, we stand to speak the truth in love, in hopes that our faithful witness can honor God in all areas of life.
I believe that God in his sovereignty has ordained that we live in this time and place to bring glory to him in our church and truth in our culture. I encourage you to educate yourself about this ruling and the issues surrounding sexuality and marriage. In fact, you would do well to read the entire Supreme Court decision. It will equip you to answer questions and speak in an informed manner. As your pastor, I pray that this church can be known as a congregation that speaks the truth in love. I am always available to speak with you if you have concerns about yourself or a loved one who may struggle with same sex attraction. We believe that the gospel is real and that the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is one that helps us to live in God’s light.
Timothy A. Brown
 In this letter LGBT will be used for the entire range of LGBTQQIAA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allied, etc.)