Sexual Identity: Legal Issues: Five Responses
Several years ago, I was eating lunch with a few pastors who were lamenting our current cultural condition. What made the conversation so memorable was the man seated beside me. He was a pastor from Eastern Europe. In fact, I arranged the lunch so that he could meet some American pastors. My friend was listening quietly. During a break in the conversation, I asked him to share a little of his perspective our situation. He simply said, "You are coming to grips with the loss of your Christian influence. We have already lost that influence in my country."
When the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) created the civil right of gay marriage in June of 2015 that luncheon came to mind. In his dissenting argument, Chief Justice Roberts said of the SCOTUS decision, "Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty." [i] The Chief Justice went on to say, "The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses." The Chief Justice apparently saw the new civil right as a loss of religious influence.
Interestingly, Hilary Clinton, in a speech delivered at the Women in the World Summit in April 2015 just two months before the SCOTUS decision, said, "And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed." Apparently, the majority of SCOTUS judges agreed. Clearly, those exercising power in our nation believe in curtailing the church's influence.
Fallen man wants to be God. He longs for God's throne. It is that simple. Nietzsche summed it up well when he said, "If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god?" That is the sentiment of humanity. How can fallen man accept that he is not god? For that reason, man cannot allow God's influence, which means the Bible and the church must be silenced. But that does not mean the total annihilation of the church. In fact, fallen man doesn't need to go that far. In Herbert Schlossberg's book called, The Fragrance of Oppression, he says that persecuting authorities will be willing to settle for something less than the complete eradication of the church so long as the church's teachings do not clash with the new establishment.
So, how should pastors and people respond when the proverbial noose seems to be tightening around the church's neck? It seems to me that Peter gives a wonderful answer. In his first epistle, Peter writes to a church that had been exiled to the outermost part of the empire. Listen to his words, "But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."[ii] There are easily five responses contained in this verse.
The first is do not fear. Ours is a culture of fear. Do an internet search and you will find that there are over five hundred - you read correctly - five hundred phobias diagnosed or mentioned in the medical world. This is a lesson needed by us and it was a lesson that Peter learned from the Lord. Do not fear.
The second lesson will help with the first. We are to set the Lord apart in our hearts. Think of what this means. God's Spirit bearing Peter along has said to us, "Do not fear." Somewhere Calvin says something like this; if we fear men, we are saying that men have more power to hurt than God does to save. Calvin is right. If we would learn not to fear we must learn to set Christ apart in our hearts.
Third, this will give rise to hope. Do you remember what Paul said? He told the Romans in chapter five that tribulation brings perseverance and perseverance demonstrates proven character and proven character produces hope. Therefore, we ought to understand that the intimidation of men is an opportunity for us to grow in hope!
Fourth, when people ask why we are hopeful in the face of a fear-producing situation we ought to be able to give them an answer. Can you give a succinct Gospel presentation? Can you tell someone why it matters? If not spend some time thinking about it today.
Fifth, we are to give our answer in the Spirit of our Savior, with gentleness and reverence. There is too much anger today. The anger of man will not accomplish the purposes of God. But someone will say, "Love gets trampled." Yes, and in that way we will suffer like our Lord. We will be treated like Him. Yes, and isn't that what we hope for?
Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995. He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.
[i] The Majority and Minority Opinions can be found here: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/576/14-556/case.pdf. Page numbers will be from individual opinions.
[ii] I Peter 3:15.