The Constitution was born within a worldview hospitable to transformation and open to corrections of injustices in letter and spirit. Examples abound: women’s right to vote, interracial marriage, the right to open legislative deliberations with prayer, and the right to education without segregation.
The Constitution has never claimed to be, in itself, the last word. Rather, it has claimed to be the first.
While I will not propose that every decision the Supreme Court has made has been for the betterment of all people, today’s ruling on same-sex marriage is an example of a nation reforming itself for the better.
Based on four separate cases, the Supreme Court ruled on two questions.
1. The marriage question: Is it constitutional for states to ban same-sex marriage?
2. The recognition question: Is it constitutional for states to refuse to recognize the marriages of couples who legally marry in other states?
In a 5-to-4 vote, the Court decided that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry regardless of the state in which they reside. Moreover, no state has a constitutional right to exclude marriage to heterosexual couples.
Some argue that this is a secular victory and that “culture” has won this culture war. Advocates, including Attorney General Eric Holder, are calling it a civil rights victory. Opponents such as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal condemn the courts for changing the traditional definition of marriage. Many Christians claim an assault on religious freedom.
But the church is called to more than unity around division, and this is why I say to all of us: rest in peace. Be at peace that God will do something in all those professing Christ in marriage. Be at peace that religious freedom is connected to justice for all.
Minimally, Christians can rest in peace that no government ruling defines the meaning of Christian marriage. But I am compelled to call us to something more than the minimal — namely to faith. Faith urges Christians to ask God, what in our world are you doing? And then listen. If we are adherents of Scripture as the story through which we know God, Christians must ask the questions behind the text, if for no other reason than to know our mysterious God better. Such faith also requires humility, and it suggests that heterosexual Christians take a back seat for a while and hear the testimony of confessing, married, gay Christians.
Marriage in the Christian context is divinely ordained by God, and as such, we would be better off to use the adjective “Christian” over “traditional.”
What is Christian marriage?
First, Christian marriage is a mystery — meaning we creatures don’t fully get it and there is a possibility that aspects of it change, as have other institutions in Christian history. As a mysterious gift, there is something about the Holy Spirit working through the married couples’ vows and commitments that transforms them, unites them, and in doing so, brings them closer to God.
Next, Christian marriage is a school of virtue. Faithfulness, love, temperance, chastity do not come about by wishing them into existence. These traits are formed by habits, making the practices most native to marriage — including forgiveness, formation of children, hospitality, and shared work — central to the formation of character.
Finally, Christian marriage is a blessing. I know many pastors who would not participate in a gay marriage because they would not solemnize a union they do not believe God would bless. To them, I say… don’t. It is part of your religious integrity.
And many Christian churches believe that God in fact would and does bless gay marriages. To pastors in those groups, I say … do.
The fact is, humans don’t totally decide who gets blessed and how. Sometimes God’s blessing schematic is logical and orthodox, but sometimes it is not.
The bottom line is that Christians can be at peace knowing that God surprises us. God blesses people and situations unimaginable in their contexts, and very often God blesses in the face of vulnerability and powerlessness. How do we know a blessing when we see one? We know by the fruits it bears.
The Lutheran liturgy gives us a picture of why Christians should be at peace with all couples who desire to submit to Christ in marriage:
“Bless them so that their lives together may bear witness to your love. Bless them in their work and in their companionship; in their sleeping and in their waking; in their joys and in their sorrows; in their life and in their death. Finally, in your mercy, bring them to that table where your saints feast forever in your heavenly home, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
The Constitution wasn’t the only document birthed in a Spirit of ongoing transformation and a growing understanding of liberty. Scripture is another such document, given so that God might work in new ways. Not all new ways are God’s ways. But if the church does not allow for the possibility of new life and for deepened understandings of liberty, we will never be transformed.
You can read more about the ruling here.