If the Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage in 2015, how will evangelicals respond?

RNS-PROP8-DECISIONBy JONATHAN MERRITT
c. 2015 Religion News Service

(RNS) Ten years after Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian Americans can be wed in 35 states and the District of Columbia (Florida will boost that number to 36, starting Tuesday). This year, the Supreme Court may put an end to the skirmish by legalizing what progressives call “equality” and conservatives dub a “redefinition” of this cherished social institution.

The court last ruled on gay marriage in 2013 when the justices gutted much of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor and delivered a massive blow to anti-gay marriage advocates. Since then, the court has acted by not acting — in effect, doubling the number of states where gay marriage is legal, from 17 to 35, by refusing to hear a slew of appeals last year.

In November, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld gay marriage bans in four states, which will almost certainly require the high court to decide the issue once and for all.

Conservative Christians have been among the most ardent opponents of gay marriage and rights for decades. How will they respond if the Supreme Court makes gay marriage legal nationwide?

The answer, it turns out, depends on which Christian you’re speaking to.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has become a leading face for the next generation of Christians opposed to gay marriage. He expects the court to take up marriage this year, and is not optimistic about how they’ll rule given the Windsor decision.

Even so, he doesn’t think such a ruling will make a whit of difference for most of his fellow evangelicals.

“Evangelicals are, by definition, defined around the Bible and the gospel,” Moore said. “The Scriptures are clear on what marriage is, and clear on the sin of sexual expression outside of the marriage covenant of a man and woman.”

If the court were to “redefine marriage,” Moore said Christians should “be ready to offer an alternative vision of marriage and family” that doesn’t include same-sex unions. Interestingly, his vision would be promoted primarily within the church rather than changing laws through political action.

“We must articulate these truths about marriage in our gospel witness, and we must embody these truths in churches that take marriage seriously,” Moore said. “This means we must start teaching our children a countercultural word about what it means to be men and women, about what marriage is, and that must begin not in premarital counseling but in children’s Sunday school.”

He contends that anyone who supports gay marriage is not an evangelical.

Ryan Anderson, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation who co-authored “What is Marriage?” with Princeton scholar Robert P. George, is a powerful voice among young conservatives. Anderson thinks the court is “very likely” to take up same-sex marriage in 2015 given the 6th Circuit decision, and he believes the decision will come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has authored the court’s most significant gay rights decisions.

Anderson (a Roman Catholic, like Kennedy) said the majority of evangelicals will remain opposed to gay marriage regardless of the ruling. But he believes the law can serve a “pedagogical function,” so legalizing gay marriage could “change the public understanding of behavior.” While Anderson won’t predict how conservative Christians at large would react, he said much depends on the behavior of LGBT advocates.

“We’ll have to see how gracious or vindictive voices within the LGBT community are in their responses,” Anderson said. “Will they become a live-and-let-live movement or a stamp-out-dissent movement? If there’s respect, there’s likely to be less pushback from conservatives.”

Anderson and Moore represent a sizable chunk of the Christian population — a majority of evangelicals and half of practicing Catholics oppose gay marriage — but they are not all of it. In recent years, many Christians, particularly younger Christians, have changed their minds on the matter. From 2003 to 2013, support for gay marriage among white evangelicals more than doubled, and support among Catholics rose by 22 percentage points.

Brandan Robertson, national spokesman for the group Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, an organization that believes “you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married,” also believes the court will take up the issue this year.

“Christians are increasingly saying that they need to stand up for LGBT equality no matter what they believe theologically,” he said, “and they are doing this not because they are American, but because they are followers of Christ.”

Though Robertson is strident in his support of “marriage equality,” he shies away from addressing whether homosexual behavior is moral, or sinful — representing many Christians who draw a distinction between civil marriage and Christian marriage.

Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network and author of “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate,” believes a Supreme Court decision in favor of gay marriage is inevitable. While his organization seeks to welcome Christians from a range of perspectives, his comments about marriage mirror Robertson’s.

“There is a distinction between Christian marriage in the eyes of God and civil marriage in the eyes of the state,” Lee said. “My hope is that Christians will continue to see that what the state says marriage is may not line up with what the church or God says.”

Conservatives are changing their minds, albeit slowly, about homosexuality, but are shifting more rapidly on gay marriage.

Even though about half of conservative Christians now believe that gay marriage is inevitable, don’t expect them to slip quietly into the night. Progressives may have the momentum, but conservatives still have a majority. Look to evangelicals to shore up the theology around holy matrimony, and fight to defend their religious liberty rights to oppose same-sex marriage.

“A Supreme Court ruling might be the last word in legal terms,” Moore said, “but it is hardly the last word in cultural or spiritual terms.”

Religion News Service

RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

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26 Comments on "If the Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage in 2015, how will evangelicals respond?"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Jay
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George Nixon Shuler, thank you for your perseverance and witness. I left the United Methodist Church some time ago because of the hypocrisy and dogmatism you are have to deal with. It is not possible to have dialogue with people who have abandoned reason and pride themselves on their anachronistic interpretations of the clobber passages in the Bible. I admire you for speaking truth.

George N. Shuler
Guest

Thank you for the kind words, my Friend. My best to you and your loved ones. As the Latin saying goes, “Illegetimi non carborundum.”

Gary Bebop
Guest

Take a lesson from Dietrich von Hildebrand’s memoirs. Eventually they came for him.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Please explain.

Gary Bebop
Guest

Wes, be careful about trying to reason with the snake.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Based on what seems to be your reasoning, slavery would still be legal….

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Show us the math.

Wes Andrews
Guest
George is not a snake, although he can get hissy ;-)! Scripture is very much a stable revelation. It’s not even close to a Rorschach test in which people see what they want. Scripture is actually as clear as math when one actually is required to provide proofs, just as in math. I agree that people will TRY to justify anything using Scripture or anything else (culture). They can get away with anything if culture is their authority, they can’t if Scripture is their authority. The MATH you requested is how Jesus followers lead the way for the abolishment of… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That’s the Fuller Theological School political correctness line, anyhow.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

I don’t think so. It’s an accurate reflection of what’s taught there.

Wes Andrews
Guest

This attack on Fuller is unmerited, unnecessary and mean spirited. Really? George, you pull random concepts out of the air, rather than offer a thoughtful response. The result is we discuss *how* we debate rather than have a meaningful conversation.

Mark
Guest

I think George has just revealed how HE views Scripture.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
To answer the question in the title, perhaps the most likely outcome will occur, to use T.S. Elliott’s apt phrase, “not with a bang but with a whimper.” Sure there will be a little bit of angrypants stampyfeet games played by the usual grifters. The South outside Florida and MetrolAtlanta, New Orleans, the big cities of Texas and a few gay ghettos like Asheville (NC) will probably not vote for a Democrat for President for the rest of my life. But that’s about it. In Twenty years, those politicians and churchmen who sought to exclude our LGBT Brothers and sisters… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

George, it matter not what is popular, but what is right based on some kind of transcendent truth. Scripture is transcendent, the courts are not.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

I agree with the first sentence of Wes’s. As for scripture, it is primarily a Rosarsch test – people see in it what they want to see.

Wes Andrews
Guest
Marriage is defined by Scripture to be between one woman plus one man. I am a man of one Book. It is my authority, not the courts. And for those who are misinformed who claim that there are many types of “marriage” in Scripture, that is only true descriptively. The Bible doesn’t omit descriptions of marriage concepts that don’t fit into God’s idea of marriage. But in describing them it is CLEARLY not prescribing these other forms of marriage. Only ONE form of marriage is prescribed: one woman plus one man. I am tempted to consider the “marriage pledge” that… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Actually that’s one man plus one [B]or more[/B] women. Marriages then, as they remain in many parts of the world, consist of thransfer of property, the woman, from mthe first owner, her father to the second, her husband. And unless you have a mikva and have your wife stay in the red tent for a few days a month, appeal to scripture in such a case is merely a false appeal to authority.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That “First Things” thingamajig is just what I mean about how this ends not with a bang but with a whimper.

I’ve read a few issues of that christofascistic rag. Afterward I felt violated.

Paul W.
Guest
George, if you are going to continue to post complaint after complaint about the views of progressives being misrepresented, you seriously might want to tone down your own offensive rhetoric. Seriously, over the last week, you have hurled an incredible amount of invective against a range of groups, beliefs, and things that you “hate”. And you aren’t even bothering to define your “attack” terms as you go (e.g., who even knows what you mean by the term “fundamentalist” since you have shown no awareness of the differences between evangelicals and hate groups such as Westboro). And, seriously, who in these… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Then why don’t you try it?

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That’s certainly OK. I will continue to speak for what is right.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Okay, George, feel free to yell at, spit on, belittle those of us in this discussion from a distance. I’m glad to have conversations with others of differing views, but until you are willing (I know you are capable) of civil discourse I will refrain from responding to your yelling, spitting and belittling, and my guess is that others might choose to respond in the same fashion.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

wes, I invite you to prove nright-wingers can be civil so far you’ve done a urine-poor job at that. You as well have asserted your superiority and your objection appears to be primarily that I spit at and defy your reprehensible behavior.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
On the contrary, there has been nothing but meanspirited incivility from the right-wing caucus here. take for example Paul W.’s post just above here of 1/5 at 9;38: in it, the feloow acts like he’s the schoolmaster and I’m the schoolboy. He posseses no authority whatsoever and his overgenerralizing and seemingly intuitive (because evidence is not present) assessment of my actions amounts to nothing more than name calling. The right wing here are offended another viewpoint is being offered, that’s all, so they level false accusations by accusing me of what they do. Paul objects to my use of the… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

George, your response to Paul really does sound like one little boy who has nothing substantive to say in an argument with another, “oh yeah!”. Paul and the rest of us have been very respectful and civil time and time again. I invite you to prove progressives can be civil.

Paul W.
Guest

Fair enough. I honestly don’t know of any instances where I have violated decorum and civility. Please help me by providing a set of specific examples where you feel I have been rude or uncivil (and please do not use my clearly sarcastic “poor George” comment which was included to emphasize your over-the-top claim that reading a conservative theological magazine could leave you feeling “violated”).

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