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Thinking about Gay Marriage on Independence Day

The Supreme Court of the United States of America legalized same-sex marriage. Will freedom be denied those of us who believe that same-sex relationships are sinful? What about the spiritual future of our culture? Can we get a word from our Lord about how we should respond?

In 1 Peter 3 we read that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears on their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those doing evil.” This is a quote from Psalm 34, which was written some 1,000 years earlier. Peter applies an ancient and established truth to current circumstances. The passage of time had not diminished the Bible’s truth.

This is a much-needed affirmation about the Bible and about the God of the Bible. Our circumstances will change, but God’s word and his character do not change. His holiness and righteousness, his love and mercy, they are established and they will never alter.

Leviticus 18 has not changed. Romans 1 has not changed. God’s design for human sexuality, for marriage and for family has not changed. God’s design for marriage is still one man and one woman committed to one another for life, raising their children together and enjoying their grandchildren. And more than that, Christian marriage is still meant to be a living parable of the love relationship between Christ and his church. None of this has changed. Nobody, not even the Supreme Court of the United States of America can change these fixed realities.

But our country’s definition of marriage has changed. It has moved sharply away from God’s design. Will those who believe in God’s design for marriage be penalized in this rapidly changing moral storm?

The text from 1 Peter 3 continues: “Who will do you harm if you are zealous for good? But if you suffer because of righteousness, you are blessed.” Jesus agrees with the notion of suffering for doing what is right. In Matthew 5 he says, “Blessed are the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” But do American Christians actually believe that suffering is a blessing? In other countries, China for instance, Christians understand these frequent Scriptural statements about suffering for the truth. Because of our religious freedom, this aspect of the faith is unfamiliar territory in the U.S.

1 Peter 3 continues: “Don’t fear what they fear, nor be upset.” Fear is not the answer. Fear is never to be our master. God has not abandoned his people or his plan. He can still be trusted. Some may fall away, but those who believe will discover the anointing of God’s power enabling them to represent him faithfully regardless the cost.

So what should we do? Next, 1 Peter says, “Set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always be ready with an answer to everyone who asks you for a word about the hope which is in you.” Notice that it does not say that we should always be ready to defend our right to speak, but we should be ready to speak.

Christians in America have sometimes been quicker to defend a right than to exercise it. Tell believers that they cannot pray and they will line up for battle, rightly so. But do those same believers take the time to attend a prayer meeting? Instead of fighting for the right to speak, we must speak what we know is right.

But what about religious freedom? Is legal same-sex marriage not a threat to our religious freedom? Should we not fight for our religious freedom? It has become popular to call religious freedom our first freedom. But is this really true? Religious freedom is a great heritage, a right for which many fought and bled and died. Our first freedom as believers, however, is our freedom in Christ, not political liberty but spiritual freedom.

A person can be politically free and spiritually bound. It is also true that one can be politically bound and spiritually free. Given the choice, we would embrace both freedoms simultaneously. Forced to choose, we relinquish our political liberty in order to remain faithful to our Lord.

The kingdom of God has advanced for millennia, often without the benefit of religious freedom. In fact, sometimes religious persecution has spread the fire of the faith more effectively than religious freedom, which sadly seems to produce spiritual complacency.

We are instructed by 1 Peter 3 to be ready to give a word about our hope. What is our great hope? It is not freedom of religion, nor is it freedom of speech. Our great hope is not the Constitution of the U.S.A. Religious leaders who tell followers of Jesus that they should put their hope in freedom of speech, freedom of religion or the Constitution are at best confused and at worst false teachers.

The Bible tells us to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, not our political freedoms or our political documents, as helpful and brilliant as these things may be. Our struggle is not a battle for religious freedom but a battle for spiritual truth. What should we do? We must set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts and be prepared to speak about him, nothing less.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist in Camden, AR, July 3, 2015

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Why So Much Confusion About Marriage?

Family has become a free-for-all. In the mad rush to affirm everybody’s right to do whatever they please with their private lives, our society is dismantling the institution that serves as the bedrock and basis for any culture. As family life weakens, other critical institutions in our society suffer. The legal system has to keep up with all the dead-beat dads and domestic violence. The welfare system has to keep up with all the abused and abandoned children. The education system is on life-support in many places because so many kids live such insecure lives that they cannot focus on classroom learning.

Not only is family becoming a do-it-yourself affair, it is becoming a do-it-for-self arrangement. Many people want to redefine family in order to suit their lifestyle, instead of adjusting their lifestyle in order to have a healthy family. If they don’t want to be faithful to their mate then they simply find someone else. If they don’t want to raise their own children then they simply abort or abandon them. If they don’t want to support the children they have left behind then they simply vanish or claim to have no resources. Any culture that lets the sinful and selfish human heart define acceptable family behavior is bound for serious turbulence. When children grow up around broken lives and broken relationships then they are at great risk for simply repeating the pattern of unhealthy family life. The resulting tangled nest of modern families seems to be expanding exponentially.

How did we get into such a twisted and confusing place? If we go back a little more than fifty years into the 1950s, we discover significantly different attitudes about family from what we see today. In retrospect, one indication that changes would soon take place was reflected by some striking research about human sexuality. Compiled by supposed experts, the book claimed that large percentages of the population were engaged in sexual misconduct, more than anyone realized (Kinsey, Pomery, and Martin, 1948). The findings of this pseudo-scientific study were shocking. The writers alleged that vast numbers of people were breaking society’s established sexual boundaries. The implication was that perhaps the boundaries should be moved, or removed.

A generation came of age in the 1960s that apparently took the ideas that were reflected in that report about human sexuality to heart. Many of them concluded that traditional ideas about family, marriage, and sex were hopelessly outdated and perhaps completely obsolete. They insisted on a new approach to sexuality: ‘free love.’ As time went on that shocking research about human sexual behavior in America was exposed to be fraudulent. It turned out that those reports were not very scientific (Reisman and Eichel, 1990). In other words, the so-called experts had lied (or at least been mistaken). But it was too late. ‘Free love’ had been loosed on an unsuspecting society. Or perhaps the facts did not matter to a large number of people who only wanted to justify irresponsible lifestyles.

Unfortunately, ‘free love’ resulted in too many unwanted babies. But experts claimed that an unborn baby was nothing more than a troublesome blob of tissue, a piece of opportunistic tissue that if allowed to grow, would become a major inconvenience, a bothersome liability. Women had the right, they said, to remove useless tissue from their bodies without any intervention based on the moral scruples of some self-righteous, backward, uneducated, religious zealots. In fact, aborting babies became the centerpiece issue for women’s health and a badge of honor for those who prided themselves in taking measures to save the Earth. Without abortion on demand, women would be denied healthcare and doomed to outer darkness and the Earth’s natural resources would be raped and depleted before the next Earth Day could be planned. This new attitude about unborn babies solved the ‘free love’ problem. Unwanted pregnancies were simply terminated—by the tens of millions.

But people discovered that they wanted children, despite the risk to the planet and the inconvenience to their personal lives. As a result, many continued to have babies, but they also continued to engage in irresponsible sex. Lack of sexual commitment, however, destroys families by ripping away an important foundation for a long-term relationship. This instability in family devotion puts children in a precarious situation. ‘Free love’ resulted in an explosion in the number of marriages that ended in divorce. Kids from broken families struggled with deep feelings of insecurity and abandonment. And parents were getting loaded down with dark feelings of personal guilt as they saw what their decisions did to their offspring.

The experts were standing by once again with yet another solution: simply redefine marriage and family—change the definition of what is right and acceptable. If family requires fidelity and lifelong commitment but sexual freedom demands infidelity and short-term relationships, then a new vision of family that allows for more personal freedom must be envisioned and promoted. Culture had to evolve and adapt to the needs (wants) of the people who make up society. What right does some faceless society have to make demands for sacrifice from individuals who have their own ideas about happiness? But what about the harm that would be done to the children living in unstable household environments? Experts could convince everyone that kids are flexible and actually happier when removed from a home where one or both parents are unfulfilled, and the problem is solved, supposedly.

With all this experimentation about how families can be deconstructed and redefined came an ever-increasing openness to other boundary-busting ideas about human sexuality, marriage and family. Gay and lesbian relationships, long understood to be outside the realm of healthy family arrangements, were suddenly provided with an opening to move toward the mainstream in popular culture. With so many people breaking down the boundaries of healthy human sexual relationships, who was left to say that same-sex couples should not take center-stage and redraw the lines even more? If personal sexual satisfaction is so important that we must kill the unborn so that they do not get in the way, then why not let same-sex couples murder a few moral standards?

So we have arrived in a place of utter confusion about marriage and family. Everyone has a right, we are being told, to define marriage as they see fit. Limiting marriage to one man and one woman is denying people their constitutional rights, supposedly. This argument is designed to paint supporters of biblical marriage as cold-blooded and hard-hearted. This is no surprise since proponents of ‘alternative’ forms of family and marriage sometimes claim that traditional families are oppressive to women and children. Raising children, some lament, is nothing more than a punishment. Alternative lifestyles liberate women, so the argument goes. How ironic it is that liberal sexual lifestyles have placed so many women in the tough and demanding position of being single parents!

Meanwhile, the children who have survived abortion since 1973 have been at higher risk to live in a broken home. More children are growing up with only one of their biological parents, or with parents whose commitment to the family is nebulous at best. An unsettling number are being raised by someone other than their parents, like a grandparent or other guardian. Despite all the assurances from experts that children are flexible and able to bounce back, kids often struggle with suffocating anxiety and bitter anger over their sense of abandonment because one or both of their parents apparently had more important things to do than to raise their son or daughter.

So the fight to define (or destroy) family rages on. Who would have imagined that ‘free love’ would result in so many murdered babies, angry youth and dysfunctional families? Where is the love? Where is the freedom? We have no time to stop and answer questions or reflect on the terrible cost of all these alternative moral visions for family life because the changes only seem to be accelerating. Same-sex families are the most recent experiment. Who knows what horrible social destruction may be caused by allowing “gay marriage” to take hold and multiply. When will our society learn that the so-called experts who promote all of these alternatives are leading us deeper into disaster?

The age of ‘free love’ has provided plenty of evidence that children generally do better when they are raised by their biological parents. Unfortunate and heartbreaking is the fact that we had to learn this the hard way, by watching millions of kids grow up without their parents and observing the disappointing results. It is clear that kids need mom and dad, even if the marriage is less than stellar. Despite this hard-won knowledge, we now stand poised to place kids in families where they will be denied mom or dad, or both. Children raised by two dads are denied a mother. Children raised by two moms are denied a father. Vague and emotional assertions about love and affection being the most important thing of all cannot make up for what is missing in a mom or a dad.

Sadly, “gay marriage” is not the last enemy of the family. Waiting in the shadows are those who wish to reduce or abolish the age of consent. Once again, children are at greatest risk, as they always are in these tragic social experiments. And the so-called experts will be ready with quick answers to soothe the consciences of those who step into their trap. Once again, the personal desires of adults will trump the legitimate needs of children.

The experts lied about sexual behavior, they lied about unborn babies, they lied about divorce, and they are lying about “gay marriage.” Any other alternative model will be just as deceitful. Why are these destructive distortions about family met with such eager acceptance by so many people? Because the spiritually rebellious heart wants God to be proven wrong at any cost. The fight for family is not a contest between tradition and progress or conservative and liberal. No, it is a conflict between truth and deception. The current fight to define marriage is only the latest manifestation of an ancient struggle between the holiness of the One Living God and the wickedness of the desperately sinful heart.

Destructive desires call us to satisfy self now, no matter what the cost might be to our marriage or our children. And the world at large echoes and amplifies those selfish desires, calling out, “Give up on God’s way. Serve yourself and be happy now. Forget tomorrow. You deserve it. You need some ‘me time’!” But the one who wanders through life guided only by their own immediate happiness or pleasure will end up with an empty heart and a barren soul. And the society that not only allows but promotes so many broken and sinful models of family is driving quickly toward ruin.

But there is good news. God himself, the Maker of humanity and the inventor of human sexuality, has indeed given us his plan for marriage and family. His plan is for one man and one woman to stay together for life, raise their children, and then enjoy their grandchildren. God’s plan goes against the selfish desires that tempt us to put immediate gratification above all else. And living according to God’s plan is an expression of love for the Lord who has given us our lives. Adopting God’s design for family is an act of faith that is rewarded by God with blessings which far surpass anything we can manufacture from lifestyles that ignore his commands.

Those who trust God’s plan will work hard to save and strengthen their marriages even at great personal effort, risk and sacrifice. Those who trust God’s plan will work to nurture and care for their children no matter what the losses to professional development, financial security, personal excitement, or any other secondary consideration. They will stand in the face of great challenges and terrible disappointments. They will reject the tempting voices of selfishness. They will sometimes sustain deep wounds but refuse to change course. Those who trust God and fight for their family will fill their hearts and households with great rewards. They will have the deep love that only a lifetime marriage can yield. They will see their children stand strong and confident in the face of trials and temptations. They will rejoice over their grandchildren with gladness because of the solid foundation that parents forged for their children’s futures.

Lifetime love grows a physical and spiritual union between husband and wife that soars far above the emotional junkyard of the broken relationships that are currently scattered throughout our land. In an age of increasing confusion about gender roles, gender identity, parenting, raising children, and all things pertaining to family, lifetime love leaves a heritage of faith for children and grandchildren so that they can build their own families with confidence and with victory. When strong families are the rule instead of the exception in a culture, then that culture is on a more sure footing in every conceivable way. After decades of failed experimentation with selfish models of family, our land needs a return to the family model that has God’s endorsement and enjoys God’s blessing. The benefits of protecting marriage are great, so the risk of letting marriage wander further into the spiritual wilderness is also great.

The current threats against marriage are daunting. Our nation’s legal definition of marriage continues to be a fierce battle ground. Bible-believing Christians want to preserve God’s design for marriage: one man and one woman freely and fully committed to one another for life. Radical gay activists are working diligently to undermine and redefine marriage in order to include same-sex couples in the mainstream of family life. Much is at stake in the struggle over how to define marriage. Countless lives will be affected if our country continues to distort and erase the boundaries for legal marriage, both in ways that can be predicted and in ways that cannot yet be imagined. Who could be harmed, and how?

As always, when society loosens the laws that establish healthy limits for marriage and family, children pay the highest price. Single-parent families have taught us the hard way that children generally do much better when they live with both mom and dad. Nevertheless, gay activists insist that two moms or two dads will be just as good. Why should we believe them? Why should we subordinate God’s word to their unfounded and untested opinions? As children grow into adults they desperately need godly models for healthy and responsible sexual behavior, not gender confusion.

Some who oppose same-sex marriage argue that tradition has established heterosexual marriage as the best foundation for society. But traditions are established by people and they can change. Traditions evolve, often to meet the seemingly expedient demands of different groups in a given society or culture. Marriage, however, is bigger than tradition. Marriage is too critical to be left up to the dictates of unpredictable currents in human tradition. Marriage is instituted and designed by God, fixed and unchanging. In addition, marriage and family are much more than building blocks for human society. The Bible presents higher ideals for marriage.

In the Old Testament God used husband and wife as a picture of the relationship between himself and his chosen people Israel. In the New Testament God’s design for marriage is presented as a picture of Christ’s bond with his church, his Bride. More than nurturing children, more than mentoring young people about their God-given sexuality, more than providing the building blocks of culture and society, marriage is about God’s love for his people. Essential spiritual truth is transmitted through God’s design for marriage, and that truth becomes a living reality in marriages where husbands and wives follow God’s design, not out of love for society or as a pragmatic solution to family ills, but out of love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Marriage is a spiritual relationship with far-reaching spiritual ramifications for all of us.

These ideas, some say, are ancient and culturally bound. Now that culture has moved on, we are told, the notions of yesteryear must recede into the background and give way for new and progressive ideas. But God has not recalled his design for marriage. It is not defective. It is not obsolete. It is not even a work in progress. Marriage between one man and one woman is a fixed design feature of humanity and it is still God’s plan for family today and all the tomorrows of this age. God is not required to answer to human society or to conform to popular human ideas. God is the author of what is right for culture and he is the source of all truth.

Some would argue that the fundamental spiritual truth that is meant to be communicated through marriage is simply love and commitment. Marriage and family are not about the outward forms, supposedly, but about genuine affection and devotion. Therefore, loving and committed same-sex couples, we are told, fulfill the Bible’s vision for family. If that were true then loving and committed relationships of any kind could eventually be proposed as fulfillment of this Scriptural principle. But such an argument ignores the fact that homosexuality is condemned every time it is mentioned in the Bible. A holy home cannot be constructed on an unholy union. Marriage is about more than tradition and it is about more than love and commitment. God’s design for marriage is cosmic in scope. It is a reflection of God’s plan for the ages.

The question of defining marriage ultimately brings us to an even more fundamental and critical issue. What is the true nature of the Bible? Is it God’s perfect Word to humanity? Or is it a collection of words by imperfect yet inspired people who were searching for divine insight when they put pen to paper? Those who support God’s design for marriage point to the Bible as the premier authority for defining marriage. As a result, gay activists have attacked the church’s understanding of God’s Word. Scriptures that clearly condemn same-sex relationships are said to be irrelevant to our age, archaic and outmoded. But should human desires judge God’s word or should God’s word judge human desires? God’s perfect truth provides the much-needed anchor for any culture when it is tugged by the tides of unholy human passions and blown by the winds of deceptive pop-culture philosophies.

For those of us who have decided to stand on the perfect word of God, we must not be surprised or disheartened when the world rejects God’s design for marriage. Only God’s presence in our lives can give any of us the ability to put his plan before our own agenda. Despite the world’s hostility toward God’s design, we must be committed to the full counsel of God. It is unfair to God’s word and intellectually dishonest to champion some portions of Scripture while remaining silent about others. The Bible not only condemns same-sex marriage, Scripture also condemns all sexual immorality. Any sexual misconduct undermines the spiritual truth that is to be reflected through godly marriage.

The fight is not merely against a radical gay agenda. The fight is for the radical holiness that God has called his people to pursue and promote. The goal should not be to make families more traditional, or pragmatic, or comfortable, but to make families honor the Lord. He who called us is holy, so let us be holy in all that we do, including our marriages. Followers of Jesus Christ cannot simply blame culture for all the confusion about marriage and embrace some vague hope that things will somehow get better. God’s people must know his word, live according to his word, and share his word.

The full counsel of God reminds us that we do not simply speak the truth. We speak the truth in love. Men and women struggling with sexual sin of all types deserve to hear the truth, but they need to hear from someone who genuinely cares. The many angry and bitter voices in the debate over defining marriage easily draw much attention to themselves, but they often drown out their own words by the bitter opposition they inspire. God’s people must be different. Righteous indignation is a legitimate expression, but loving confrontation and encouragement is a vital ingredient. Christians are called to be the true people of hope and change. Salt and light can be uncomfortable but should never be hateful. People may reject the truth, but it should be the content and not the presentation that they find distasteful.

What should Christians do in response to the downward spiral of family? First and foremost, we must live according to God’s word. Despite past mistakes, we must commit ourselves to God’s design for family: one man and one woman committed to each other for a lifetime, committed to raising our children together and enjoying our grandchildren. This includes everyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ. If one has had an affair, lived through a divorce, fallen prey to same-sex encounters, or any other failure, forgiveness and restoration is available through Christ. No matter how many failures litter our past, we can decide that this marriage will be a godly marriage; the rest of our life will honor the Lord. If we are presently single, we can determine to remain pure until we are able to enter a godly marriage, or serve God as a single adult, honoring the marriage bed by remaining celibate.

Second, Christians should pray for God’s Spirit to move in a mighty way in the hearts of people throughout the land. We can plead with our Lord to renew a spirit of love for truth in households and hearts everywhere. And third, as Christians we must open our mouths and speak the word of truth. We cannot be intimidated into silence. Too much is at stake in the fight for family. And we must speak the truth in love. As families falter, hungry hearts will multiply; countless souls will be thirsty, longing for a better way. This is an opportunity to explain and to promote God’s ways to a population that is increasingly ignorant about the unvarnished biblical truth.

In order to live according to God’s design for marriage, couples must have commitment, understanding, and ability. The ability can come only from the empowering Spirit of God. The commitment can come only from the married couples themselves. The understanding comes from learning the truth about God’s design for marriage as he has revealed it in his Word, the Holy Bible. To all who are followers of Jesus, let us devote ourselves to knowing, obeying, and promoting God’s design for marriage and family. The need is great but our God is more than sufficient.

Richard Foster
Camden, AR
September 2013

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