Acts 4:18–21 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.
Civil disobedience is a tricky issue – especially for Christians.
As I understand the teaching of God’s Word, there are two occasions when civil disobedience is not only permissible, but in fact required by Bible believing Christians. The first instance is when any authority forbids one from doing what God’s Word explicitly requires. The second is when any authority requires one to do something the Word of God explicitly forbids. In these instances – and in this case the second one specifically – Peter’s response to the Council in Jerusalem when they tried to bar the Disciples from preaching in Jesus’ name – must be ours as well: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
The Supreme Court decision handed down yesterday, June 26, 2013 striking down the DOMA or Defense of Marriage Act is destined to bring Churches and their Pastors directly into precisely this kind of confrontation. Not immediately, but not very long from now given the present rate of moral change in the United States.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law in September of 1996. That act sought to define marriage (at least for the purposes of the Federal Government) as the union between one man and one woman. This definition would govern who and who cannot be considered a “spouse” by Federal Agencies in regard to Federal laws and spousal benefits under the law. Yesterday, in a 5/4 split decision, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional, and therefore cannot stand. Ostensibly this means that however a marriage relationship is deemed legal by any given State – same-sex or otherwise – must also be treated as such by the Federal Government.
The broader implications of this momentous decision is handled with his usual clarity and insightfulness by Albert Mohler – and his analysis can be found at this link:
But for our purposes today, I want only to deal with what I believe will be the inevitable outcome of this action – despite the attempt by President Obama to reassure us of the opposite. In fact, the need for such reassurance is a sure sign that this issue cannot be so easily dismissed.
The President is quoted as saying in his response to the Supreme Court decision: “On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital,” Obama said. “How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision — which applies only to civil marriages — changes that.”
For while the decision yesterday does not have the power of pronouncing same-sex marriage as a Constitutional right, it has completely cleared the way to any same-sex couples wishing to marry in a State where it is not yet legal, to sue that State, bringing it back eventually to the Supreme Court under another cover. If a same-sex couple is denied the right to marry in some State, they can argue – on the basis of yesterday’s decision, that their Constitutional rights have been violated. And the Court will have no choice but to uphold that when the time comes.
The fallout from that reality is just this. If a same-sex couple were seek marriage in a religious ceremony, say at this Church, and their application were denied on the basis of it being a same-sex union, they would – again, on the basis of yesterday’s decision – have a clear path to claim their Constitutional rights were violated, and bring suit.
It is at this point I want to be abundantly clear as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and one of the pastors of this congregation – that I will under no circumstances perform a same-sex marriage. Period. And I will have to leave it to the other powers that be to determine whether or not we ought to obey the authorities, or to obey God, if or when we are required to do something like this – which God’s Word clearly and without controversy, forbids. The Biblical teaching on the question of marriage being the union of one man and one woman is straight forward and unambiguous. And it is according to that standard that the Church must act.
The days when such stands will be put to the test are right in front of us. And as never before, we need to heed God’s Word to pray for those in Government, that they too may come to be restrained by a law of holiness, that transcends human authority and fallen reason.