Gay Marriage and Legislated Morality

The President’s recent endorsement of gay marriage has many people asking questions about the government’s role in the perceived legislation of morality.  Is the government legislating morality if it defends the traditional understanding of marriage between a man and a woman?  Many Christians are asking themselves if they should even care about how the government defines marriage.  Christians seem to fall into two camps of thought on the issue.  On the one side, Christians incorrectly push for a United States of God, in which Old Testament Law should be the legislated norm, and on the other side, Christians in rejection of the first position become purely apathetic to the government’s stance on moral issues.  I heartily reject the United States of God position, but would like to deal with the growing apathetic Christian position.  The general Christian reasoning for not caring about the government’s legislation on marriage goes like this:

   The government is not a Christian institution and governs Christians and non-Christians alike.  If the    
   government wants to legalize gay marriage Christians should not be concerned because it is impossible   
   to hold the government to the same standards that Christians live by.  Furthermore, we are not   
   accountable for the government’s actions or the actions of others participating in gay marriage.  In 
   addition, many Christians add to this line of thinking a popular misconception of the separation of 
   church and state, coming to the conclusion that Christians should not encourage the government to 
   enforce the definition of marriage.  To do so would be to legislate morality on those that cannot keep it. 

In the following article I would like to challenge the popular misconception that Christians should not push for the government to legislate in favor of marriage being between a man and a woman.  I think there are several important Biblical ideals that teach us about the interplay between Christians and the governmental authorities we are in subjection to, and it is these ideals that I will turn to next.  As a side note, there is a mountain of Biblical evidence and imagery that support marriage being between a man and a woman. If you would like to hash out some of the Biblical evidence please contact me, but for the purposes of this article I take marriage to be between a man and a woman as foundational to Christian thought.

Romans 13:1-7 is a classic passage on interplay between Christians and government.  Paul mandates that Christians be in subjection to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1).  In addition, he reminds the reader the governing authorities were put in place by God (Romans 13:1).  There is no authority outside what God ordains.  Government is supposed to be a minister of God for good as well as a punisher of evil (Romans 13:4).  Governments are intended to be a good, God ordained authority in our world that restrains evil.  We often do not rejoice over God’s provision and protection through government, but we should.  This however, does not mean that governments cannot err.  In fact, throughout the Old Testament God punished the nations when they used their authority in a sinful way.  A prime example can be seen in Isaiah 10:1-19.  God is pouring out wrath on Israel for their sinful behavior and lack of justice.  God’s instrument for pouring out wrath is Assyria.  Yet Assyria is boasting in their own strength as if it came from within instead of giving Glory to God.  God is going to punish Assyria for their prideful and arrogant heart (Isaiah 10:12) as well as their evil deeds.  So what does this have to do with the government and gay marriage?  We must remember that God is the one who gives authority to the government and He will call them to account for the way they have used their authority.  If the government rules in ways that are contrary to God’s standards for man it will face God’s judgment.  The government is accountable to God for its legislation of moral issues, including gay marriage.

If the government is accountable to God, do Christians have a responsibility to urge the government to act in ways that promote a moral lifestyle?  I would respond with two metaphors from the Sermon on the Mount; “you are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16).  After Christ has pronounced blessing and described the character of those that are members of the Kingdom of Heaven in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-2) he describes citizens in God’s kingdom in relation to this world as salt and light.  By their nature Christians must shine forth a life that is concerned with God’s standards and urge others toward the same.  We must object to the way the government is devaluing marriage and destroying this ancient common grace of God.  John the Baptist provides a prime example of the light Christians must shine forth concerning the standards of God.  Matthew 14:1-12 describes the sordid scene that resulted in John’s death.  John confronted Herod the tetrarch about his adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife and it got him killed.  While we cannot force the government to make decisions in line with God’s standards, nor should we, we must be the salt and light of the Gospel that is warning them that they are legislating and acting in ways that are against God’s standards while maintaining the utmost respect for the government’s God given authority.  The government and individual’s obedience to God must be voluntary, but our warning over sin must be clear.  To do anything less is to not be salt and light.  Jesus promises that those who are part of his kingdom will be persecuted, but we are counted as blessed when we are persecuted for righteousness (Matthew 5:10-12).  Christians must be the moral light on the issue of gay marriage and urge the government to act in ways that encourage God’s moral standards.

I have established that the Government is accountable to God for using its authority in sinful ways.  In addition, I have shown the Christians responsibility in this world is to be salt and light.  We must warn people of the sin they are engaging in and point them toward God’s standards.  Finally we must develop a proper understanding of the separation of church and state.  The separation of church and state was never intended to eradicate all moral thought from the life of government, nor was it intended to totally alienate any religion from the decisions of the government.  The separation of church and state was originally designed to keep the government from supporting and mandating any particular religion or religious practice.  In fact, many of the original promoters of this ideal where early evangelical Christians who were facing persecution from government sponsored religious institutions in early America.  Liberals have Christians to thank for the ideal of the separation of church and state.  The founding principal for the separation of church and state is that every man should be able to worship or not worship whatever his conscious permits.  For us today this means that we should not hope that the government of the United States becomes a theocracy legislating and enforcing adherence to Christianity and its religious practices as a requirement for citizenship.  Instead, we should look forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God when Christ returns to reign and place all nations under his righteous rule.  However for the here and now, we must hope and urge the government to use its God given authority to restrain evil and promote good that is in accordance with God’s standards.  Romans 1:18-20 reminds us that God has written on the hearts of all men knowledge of Himself and His standards, and many choose to reject what has been written in their hearts.  When we advocate for the moral standards of God, we are promoting what has already been written on the hearts of men.

Marriage between a man and a woman is the fundamental, foundational building block of all human society.  In addition, marriage is a major theme of the Bible that begins in chapter 1 of Genesis and ends with the marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation 19.  God cares profusely about marriage. To promote a Godly understanding of marriage is good for our nation and our world.  Christians must be salt and light on this subject even though we endure the persecution of the world for it; to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven demands it.  We are living in a society that has denied God’s sovereign rule, and God has given our society over to their passions.  Romans 1:18-32 gives us a road map to foundational reasons marriage is being attacked at a national level in our country.  If we really want to promote marriage in this country, we need to take the log out of our own eye (Matthew 7:1-5).  Christians roughly have as many problems (divorce, adultery, abuse) with marriage, or slightly better, as non-Christians.  If you really want to defend God’s standard of marriage then be radical and love your family, pour into them, and see them as your primary ministry.  Then you can humbly approach the world in love and urge them to follow your example as you follow Christ.
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