At Stand to Reason, we usually focus on the publicly accessible, non-religious reasons to oppose changing the definition of marriage, as there’s no need to appeal to the Bible in order to make a good case. But the question “Why do Christians care how an organization that self-identifies as Christian views marriage?” and “Is this something worth dividing over?” requires an answer from within Christian doctrine.
In a post titled “Why Is This Issue Different?” Kevin DeYoung gives four reasons why a disagreement between self-professed Christians on this issue is different from a disagreement on a theological issue such as the mode of baptism. Here’s one of those reasons:
Homosexual behavior is so repeatedly and clearly forbidden in Scripture that to encourage homosexuality calls into question the role of Scripture in the life of the denomination that accepts such blatantly unbiblical teaching. The order of creation informs us that God’s plan for sexuality is one woman and one man (Genesis 2). This order is reaffirmed by Jesus (Matthew 19) and Paul (Ephesians 5). The Old Testament law forbade homosexual behavior (Leviticus 18, 20). Paul reiterates this prohibition by using the same Greek construction in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. Paul condemns same sex behavior (among many other sins) in Romans 1. Jude in his epistle links sexual immorality and the “unnatural desire” present in Sodom and Gomorrah.
The evidence is so overwhelming that Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament scholar and advocate of legitimizing homosexual behavior, argues rather candidly: “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.” At its root, support for homosexual behavior is not simply a different interpretation of Scripture; it is a rejection of Scripture itself.
There are certainly some today who argue that the Bible does not prohibit homosexual activity between committed partners. For a response to their arguments, I recommend a refutation from James White, which can be found here (along with more links you may find helpful).
Of course, homosexuality isn’t the only sin in the world. But I know of no Christian leader or Christian community promoting theft or championing idolatry as a special blessing from God. It is not an overstatement to say solemnizing same-sex intercourse is in danger of leading people to hell. The same is not true when it comes to sorting out the millennium. In tolerating the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people farther from God, not closer. This is not the mission Jesus gave us when he told us to teach the nations all that he has commanded.
I’ve had the privilege to speak on university campuses across the country, making a case for the reliability of the New Testament Gospels and the truth of the Christian Worldview (I’ll be at Rutgers next Monday night). One of the most common questions asked in the Q and A is something similar to: “Have you taken the time to apply the same approach with all the other religious worldviews?” Sometimes people ask this question because they are curious about how well other ancient religious claims (or alleged eyewitness accounts) hold up under investigative scrutiny. But many times this question is followed by a more pointed objection: “How can you trust Christianity is true if you haven’t examined all the alternatives?”
Given the large number of spiritual claims circulating across the globe (and throughout history), why should we conclude one (or any) of them is true until we’ve examined all of them? At first blush, this seems like a reasonable approach, and when it’s asked by a skeptic, it’s typically offered in an effort to expose the inadequate or incomplete nature of my investigation (or some underlying bias I may have against opposing claims). Although I investigated several theistic and atheistic worldviews prior to becoming a Christian, I didn’t examine every view. Is my certainty related to Christianity therefore misplaced? Should the limited nature of my investigation disqualify or temper the case I’m presenting to skeptics and believers? I don’t think so.
In every criminal trial, the investigators and prosecutors are obligated to present the evidence related to one defendant. While the burden of proof lies with the prosecutorial team, the prosecution is not required to have examined every possible alternative suspect. If I am investigating a case in which the suspect was initially described as a white male, 25 to 35 years of age with brown hair, the potential suspect pool in Los Angeles County would be quite large; there may be hundreds of thousands fitting this description. As I make the affirmative case related to one of the men in this large group, I’m under no obligation to make the case against the others. In fact, when the jury evaluates the case and decides whether the defendant is guilty, they will do so without any consideration of the alternatives. If the evidence is strong enough to reasonably infer the defendant’s involvement, the jury will make a confident decision, even though many, many alternatives were left unexamined.
The case for Christianity is made in a similar way. While it may be helpful to examine a particular alternative worldview on occasion to show its inadequacies or errors, these deficiencies fail to establish Christianity as factual. How can you trust Christianity is true if you haven’t examined all the alternatives? The case for the Christian worldview must first be made affirmatively even if no other claim is examined negatively. If there’s enough evidence to reasonably infer Christianity is true, we needn’t look any further. The affirmative case will either stand or fall on its own merit, even if we’re unable to examine any other “suspect.”
Arthur Guinness founded the Guinness Brewing Co. in 1755. He learned the art of brewing from his father and succeeded in establising a flourishing company. Arthur, a committed Christian, used his influence and wealth to help others.
In 1759, Arthur moved to Dublin. There he found an abandoned brewery at St. James’ Gate, for rent for £100 down and £45 per year. Arthur somehow managed to get the owner to agree to a lease for up to 9,000 years on these terms, and so Arthur opened his new brewery in Dublin.
Arthur was a very dedicated member of the Church of Ireland. In Dublin, he attended a church in which John Wesley preached, and Wesley’s ideas about hard work, the goodness and responsibilities of wealth, and the importance of caring for the poor had a powerful impact on Arthur’s faith.
As a result, Arthur became involved in a variety of social welfare organizations. He was on the board and became governor of Meath hospital and was dedicated to ensuring that it provided care for the poor. He also gave to a number of charities, promoted Gaelic arts to encourage pride in the Irish heritage, and joined the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick, an organization dedicated to ending the practice of dueling.
He was also a champion of the Sunday School movement in Ireland, which provided basic education to children. For Arthur, this was part of an interest in prison reform: he believed that education combined with Biblical teaching would keep people from falling into a life of crime.
Even though a dedicated Protestant in a community that looked down at Roman Catholics, Guinness advocated for the rights of Catholics and treated them well at his brewery. This may have cost him business, but he believed it was the right thing to do.
Arthur Guinness's commitment to helping others carried on through his descendant and company. Read more about it.
World Vision has announced a reversal in their decision to allow same-sex marriages in their employee conduct policy:
Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.
We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.
In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.
We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.
While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect....
The U.S. branch of World Vision has announced that that they “have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on [the issue of their being in a same-sex marriage] alone.”
After reading their statement, along with quotes in this Christianity Today article, here’s how I imagine this might have gone down at World Vision:
World Vision required its employees to be celibate unless married.
World Vision had employees with same-sex attractions who were celibate, as their employee conduct policy required:
Stearns said World Vision has never asked about sexual orientation when interviewing job candidates. Instead, the organization screens employees for their Christian faith, asking if they can affirm the Apostles' Creed or World Vision's Trinitarian statement of faith.
Yet World Vision has long had a Christian conduct policy for employees that "holds a very high bar for all manner of conduct," said Stearns. Regarding sexuality activity, World Vision has required abstinence for all single employees, and fidelity for all married employees.
The states that some of those employees lived in began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Some of those employees got married.
Those employees supposed they were in compliance with World Vision’s requirements. World Vision required marriage; they were married.
World Vision took issue with their behavior and was challenged by the employees: How were they violating the conduct policy? Why was their marriage being treated differently?
Now World Vision was in a pickle. If they officially defined marriage as a man and a woman, which would result in people having to leave the organization, there would undoubtedly be a huge reaction from the media and activist groups. The phrase “That organization that hates gay people” would swallow up their entire public identity, harming their ability to help the poor. They would also lose valued employees, and this seems to have been a bigger concern for them than any fear of outside pressure. As they said in their statement, “The board and I wanted to prevent this divisive issue from tearing World Vision apart and potentially crippling our ability to accomplish our vital kingdom mission of loving and serving the poorest of the poor in the name of Christ.”
But if they didn’t specifically define marriage, they would have no consistent reason to continue to insist that employees refrain from homosexual behavior, as they perhaps believed the Bible called for.
So what to do? I think they intended to choose the path that would cause the least distraction from their mission…and they deceived themselves into thinking a neutral position on this was possible.
Their decision was to not define marriage at all, but to allow the employees and their churches to define the word “marriage” for themselves (which actually renders their requirement of marriage meaningless, just as it would be meaningless to require a belief in Jesus' resurrection while leaving the definition of "resurrection" up to the employees). If a church marries a same-sex couple, World Vision will recognize the marriage as being in line with their conduct policy.
By doing this, they thought they would avoid the debate on the definition of marriage and maintain unity within their organization, saying, “It…allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage,” and, “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate.”
And yet, if you require your employees to either be married or celibate, and you affirm that those who are in same-sex marriages are in compliance with your policy, then you have indeed recognized the validity of same-sex marriage and homosexuality. You’ve entered the debate, and you’ve taken a position.
There was no neutral ground in this situation.
For more on this, Greg discussed World Vision’s decision in the second hour of this week’s show. And if you’re considering whether or not you ought to discontinue your support for World Vision, Matt Anderson has some helpful thoughts over at Mere Orthodoxy.
Robert George and Hamza Yusuf argue against the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s claim that religious exemptions made for the sake of religious freedom (such as in the case of Hobby Lobby) are actually unconstitutionally establishing religion:
The robust conception of religious freedom that has served our nation so well is now being challenged in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which will be argued before the Supreme Court on March 25. Hobby Lobby (a chain of arts and crafts stores) and its owners, the Green family, are seeking a religious exemption from parts of ObamaCare's contraception and abortion-drug mandate. Their Christian faith forbids them from paying for insurance coverage for the provision of four drugs and devices that may act to terminate newly conceived human lives. Although the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that an exemption is required under federal civil-rights law, the government has asked the Supreme Court to compel the Greens to violate their consciences—which they will not do—or suffer crippling fines.
Some of the government's supporters—like the Freedom From Religion Foundation—have offered the high court in an amicus brief an even more extreme argument. They claim that the whole practice of religious exemptions constitutes an unconstitutional "establishment of religion," at least when protecting religious minorities deprives others of the chance to benefit from these minorities' forced service….
This argument misunderstands both the nature and purpose of exemptions as protections for religious beliefs from majority coercion.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly—and unanimously—rejected the claim that policies enacted to vindicate free-exercise rights by accommodating religious beliefs and practices violate the Establishment Clause…. These Supreme Court rejections make sense, because the same First Amendment that prohibits the establishment of religion also expressly protects the free exercise of religion. It would be illogical to treat protections for religious exercise as establishing someone's religion….
The argument against exemptions would be plausible if such laws only protected religious believers of one faith, or if the laws stipulated that religious interests should prevail in every case in which they competed with other interests and values. But the federal civil-rights law at issue in the Hobby Lobby case—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—protects people of all faiths. Exemptions are not automatic, because the government is always permitted to show that it has compelling reasons to deny the exemption. Historically the government has often met this burden and won the case.