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Evangelicals in Post-Lawrence America: Three Temptations

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Evangelicals and our traditionalist allies are still reeling from last week’s Lawrence v. Texas decision, which reversed state anti-sodomy statutes. At the same time, Canada and Massachusetts are making straight the path toward same-sex marriage. Many conservatives have been jolted to discover that their grandchildren may grow up in a culture that doesn’t even know what marriage is. With the “culture war” over marriage heating up, there are three dangerous temptations evangelicals should identify now, as we prepare to engage the world on this most basic of issues.

The first temptation is evangelical disengagement. After all, as conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg writes, almost all aspects of popular culture have now embraced the legitimacy of homosexual relationships.  Many of us will be tempted to isolate ourselves into our own churches and communities—raising our children with a biblical view of marriage while the outside culture slouches toward Gomorrah.

But this strategy forgets one of the primary callings of the church—to love our neighbors, and our enemies, as we love ourselves.  Indeed, Jesus speaks of the church’s vocation to love in terms of the Creator’s common grace on all people, regenerate and unregenerate.  “And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” Jesus asks. “Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matt 5:47, ESV).

Marriage is a creation ordinance, given by God to all of humanity (Gen 2:24). The silence of the church as marriage is eclipsed in our culture is not just unwise; it is hateful.  If we love future generations of humanity, we will warn them of the consequences of rejecting something that is woven into the very fabric of creation—the joyous marriage union of one man and one woman.

A second temptation is evangelical utopianism.  The Lawrence decision rightly has mobilized conservatives toward political and legislative action. Evangelicals should support all worthy efforts—including, if necessary, a constitutional amendment to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. Still, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking this issue is merely political. It must be addressed in courthouses and legislatures, but the discussion cannot end there.

Pessimists such as Jonah Goldberg are right on one point—this issue is cultural before it is political.  And we have lost much ground in this culture.  It would be a mistake for us to assume that the rest of civil society shares our definition of marriage.  Turn on primetime television, or open a major metropolitan newspaper to the wedding announcements page. The gospel of gay liberation is everywhere—and it is increasingly adopted without question.  For younger generations of Americans, a traditionalist view of marriage is the moral equivalent of a segregationist view of race relations. Legislation is important, but it will take more than retooling the laws to address this cultural shift.

The third temptation is evangelical accommodation.  It would be so easy to focus all our energies on Supreme Court briefs, candidate questionnaires, and cultural dialogue.  And yet our first calling is to be the church—to model before the watching world the new creation of the Kingdom of Christ (1 Pet 2:8-12).  We have a responsibility to our country and to our culture—but we have an even greater responsibility to the colony of the Kingdom.  This means evangelism, preaching, and intentional discipleship. And it means equipping our congregations in “whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20,
KJV)—including the whole counsel of God on marriage and family.

And the situation in our churches is direr on this point that we might think. Poll your church youth group on the question of homosexuality. Twenty years ago, the issue would have brought forth images of flannel-graph Sunday school lessons on the fall of Sodom.  Now it brings forth images of last Thursday’s episode of Will and Grace.  Have we even recognized the ways in which the spirit of the age has infected those within our own pews?

The future is even starker when we consider the lack of conviction on the family in even some of our most conservative evangelical churches.  If we defend marriage against gay culture in the way we defended it against the divorce culture, our churches have trouble on the way.  There was a day in which conservative Protestants served as a prophetic voice, reminding our people that “what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”  Now many marriage ceremonies do not even explain the biblical permanence of marriage, concentrating instead on therapeutic language about communication techniques and “being there for each other.”  Even more chilling is the way in which so many evangelical pastors are afraid to address the divorce issue at all—choosing instead to adopt the “one wife at a time” model of contemporary culture. What will happen when the issue before us is not whether the deacon chairman’s son can marry his third wife in the sanctuary, but whether he can “marry” his boyfriend?

Evangelical Christians should be ready to engage post-Lawrence America with a biblical vision of marriage. We should join with like-minded citizens in protecting marriage in law.  We should work to influence our culture to recognize the goodness of the marriage bond between a man and a woman, along with the joy of rearing children.  And, above all, we should build churches that model what the rest of the world seems ready to forget—”male and female created He them” (Gen 1:27, NKJV).

The culture is changing but that can be good news for the church.

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About Russell Moore

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency 
of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

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