By / Jan 8

Catholics around the world are sharply divided by the Vatican’s recent declaration giving priests more leeway to bless same-sex couples. Supporters of LGBTQ inclusion welcome the move; some conservative bishops assail the new policy as a betrayal of the church’s condemnation of sexual relations between gay or lesbian partners.

Strikingly, the flare-up of debate in Catholic ranks coincides with developments in two other international Christian denominations — the global Anglican Communion and the United Methodist Church — that are fracturing over differences in LGBTQ-related policies.

Taken together, it’s a dramatic illustration of how – in a religion that stresses God’s love for humanity – divisions over marriage, sexuality, and inclusion of gays and lesbians are proving insurmountable for the foreseeable future in many sectors of Christianity.

Some conservative denominations — such as the Southern Baptist Convention and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — have adhered firmly to policies that reject recognition of same-sex relationships and ordination of openly LGBTQ people. These policies have prompted departures, but no major schism.

Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptists’ public policy commission, reiterated the SBC’s position in a statement asserting that the Vatican — under Pope Francis — “has been on a trajectory that seems destined for the allowance of same-sex marriage.”

The reality is marriage has been defined by God … It is a union between one man and one woman for life. Southern Baptists remain anchored in this truth.

Brent Leatherwood

Read the full Associated Press article here.

By / Sep 7

In his concurring opinion on the Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs decision—a decision which overturned the “precedent set in both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey“—Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider opinions protecting same-sex relationships, marriage equality, and access to contraceptives.” Though this view was not shared by the majority, who stated “unequivocally that ‘[n]othing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,’” Congress has been stirred to seek pre-emptive measures that secure and expand same-sex marriage protections by proposing the Respect for Marriage Act.

Here is what you should know about the Respect for Marriage Act and its implications.

What is the Respect for Marriage Act?

The Respect for Marriage Act—introduced by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY-10) in the House of Representatives and Sens. Feinstein (D-CA), Baldwin (D-WI), and Collins (R-ME) in the Senate—is a bill that seeks to “repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and codify federal recognition for marriage equality.” As stated in the bill summary, “the bill repeals and replaces provisions that define, for purposes of federal law, marriage as between a man and a woman and spouse as a person of the opposite sex with provisions that recognize any marriage that is valid under state law.” 

The summary goes on to outline the bill’s aim to “repeal and replace provisions that do not require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states with provisions that prohibit the denial of full faith and credit or any right or claim relating to out-of-state marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.” Finally, the Respect for Marriage Act would permit the Department of Justice “to bring a civil action” and would establish “a private right of action for violations.”

The Respect for Marriage Act is a federal legislative attempt to finally entrench, nationwide, the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which ruled that “state laws barring same-sex marriages were unconstitutional.” At its core, this bill is a further attempt by Congress to redefine marriage, a union that need not be redefined and which government has no authority to redefine.

What are the religious liberty implications?

In a letter sent to the U.S. Senate on July 26, ERLC Acting President Brent Leatherwood conveyed why the Respect for Marriage Act presents such grave religious liberty concerns for people of faith. He said, “Given the significant role marriage plays in faith, the ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ raises serious religious liberty concerns for individuals and organizations who maintain this view of marriage (the view that marriage is an institution created by God between one man and one woman for life) and are in contract with, funded by, or working jointly with the government.” 

Since Obergefell, rights of conscience and religious freedom have found themselves in the crosshairs of a number of notable cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021), each of which was ruled in favor of religious liberty. Should the Respect for Marriage Act find passage, however, we may rightly assume that rights of conscience and religious freedom will find themselves under threat yet again. 

One additional concern is the absence of a “limiting principle in this bill.” Given this omission, it is “unclear whether the Respect for Marriage Act would codify federal recognition to civil marriages that go beyond the scope of two individuals in states that allow it.” That the bill seeks to “recognize any marriage” (emphasis added) considered valid under state law undoubtedly opens the door for federal recognition of such things as polygamous relationships—now legally recognized in several Massachusetts cities—and a presumably long list of other iterations as they strike our culture’s fancy. 

For these reasons and more, this bill is an affront to the rights of conscience and religious liberty so fundamental to American society.

What happens next?

On July 19, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Respect for Marriage Act with broad bipartisan support. The final vote was 267-157 with 47 Republicans joining with all Democrats in support of the bill. Before it can become law, the bill must be passed in the Senate and be signed by the president. 

While it’s unclear whether the Respect for Marriage Act will pass the Senate, Andrew Solender and Shawna Chen of Axios suggest that “support among Republican senators is gradually building.” Several GOP senators have voiced support for the bill, including Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) among others. In an article published on Aug. 2, Solender wrote that “Senators are working behind the scenes on changes to” the bill. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), for instance, said “We want to make sure that there’s no infringement on your individual right or any entity’s individual right to express their own beliefs from a religion standpoint.” Likewise, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who is considered “a key undecided vote,” said he’s “looking at protections for religion” as he considers his position on the bill. It’s possible that Senate discussions will lead to the proposal of “new language on the bill” or push “for a vote on an amendment.” 

For the bill to pass, 10 GOP senators will have to join all Democrats to overcome the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold. Senate Majority Leader Schumer has signaled that he plans to bring the bill forward for consideration and a vote after the August recess.

Why we stand for God’s design for marriage

The institution of marriage was created and initiated by God, as our sacred text conveys: “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). It is not subject to redefinition, no matter what the whims of culture may say. As Christians, “we hold fast to this understanding of God’s design of marriage as being between one man and one woman for life” not only because it’s right and faithful to the Word God has spoken to us, but also “because this biblical framework undergirds a healthy society.” And when the sanctity of marriage is not recognized, society suffers.

The ERLC stands firmly opposed to this legislation. Please join us in praying that, should it be scheduled for a vote, the Senate will vote against the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

By / Sep 6

I still remember the first time I heard a Christian question why it was bad for the government to change the legal definition of marriage. I was an associate pastor in Washington state, and in 2012 the state voted to allow legal same-sex marriage, three years before Obergefell legalized it nationwide. As people were discussing how they felt about changing a definition that had held firm for all of human history prior, a member of my church shared that she didn’t understand why most Christians were against the state changing the definition of marriage. She expressed that she did understand that Christians should personally be opposed to same-sex marriage given the Bible’s clear teaching on marriage, but she did not see any compelling reason that we should care about what the government allows or defines as marriage.

A decade later, there are many reasons we could clearly point to, ways that same-sex marriage has changed our culture. To name a few: legal battles for conscience protections for small businesses, many religious adoption agencies closing down as they were forced to change their firmly held religious beliefs or stop helping children, the cascade of gender dysphoria that is especially hitting our teens and young adults, and gender and sexuality options that are now being taught openly in our public schools, even to elementary students. But as clear as some of those reasons are for concern, as the Senate now moves toward repealing the 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act,” is there a theological reason that Christians should care about the definition of marriage in our broader culture? To put it another way, is there a “gospel reason” that Christians cannot support the legal definition change of marriage?

A theology of marriage 

Jesus was asked difficult theological questions about marriage by his disciples. While the issue his followers asked about in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 may have been directly about divorce, the answer Jesus gave continues to echo down to us today, answering questions about why Christians should care about the definition of marriage. Just in the first phrase of his reply, Jesus shows why marriage is only truly between a man and a woman: “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female’” (Matt. 19:4) Jesus takes the disciples—and us—way back. He pulls them back to the Garden of Eden when humanity, and marriage, were first created. 

The Lord clearly lays out that God created Adam as a male and Eve as a female, which will become significant the deeper we dig into why God created humans and marriage the way that he did. Jesus also reminds us that God is the Creator, which means that he not only knows what is best for human flourishing, but also that we do not get to make up our own definition for institutions that God has created such as marriage. If we do so, it will have disastrous consequences as we try to “un-god” God, and “god” ourselves with the powers of creation. Because God created it, marriage was never ours to change.

Next, Jesus explains more about why marriage is deeper and more significant than we often give it credit for, by quoting Genesis again and then adding his own divine thoughts. He explains: “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ . . . So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:5-6). As Jesus explains the significance of marriage here, he gives us huge clues as to why same-sex marriage is not just a bad idea, but is not really marriage. When Jesus talks about marriage in terms of “man” and “wife,” he is not simply speaking to a different culture and time as if in the future, more progressive ideas could erase the way God originally created marriage. He brings the disciples back to creation to show them that the way we understand marriage must go back to when God first created it. Jesus shows us that there is profound significance in a husband and wife becoming “one flesh.” 

There is beauty, function, meaning, and even gospel pointers in marriage between a husband and wife. A man and woman in marriage are different and yet equal, separate and yet joined together as one. This cannot be done between a husband and husband or wife and wife. Not only do they not fit together in the same way physically, but in taking away the God-created differences between man and woman and replacing them with sameness, homosexual marriage also takes away the “one flesh” union that Jesus speaks of here. It is only in the differences of male and female (Matt. 19:4) that there can be the union of marriage (Matt. 19:5-6). Remember, Jesus started answering the disciples’ questions about marriage by asking, “Have you not read?” If Jesus were answering us today as we asked him about same-sex marriage, there is no doubt that he would say something along the lines of, “Have you not read?”, referring to either Genesis or the Gospels, and then, “What therefore God has not joined together, let not man join together.”

But I believe there is at least one more passage Jesus would bring us to with our same-sex marriage questions today. In Ephesians 5, we learn—astoundingly—that God’s design for marriage points to the gospel. As a common grace for both believers and unbelievers, God created marriage from the beginning of time to be something embedded in culture that would point to the love of Jesus for his bride. This is often hard for us to grasp because we don’t mirror this as clearly as we should. But in the union between a man and a wife, there is a pointer to the union of Jesus with his people. The marriage covenant points to the New Covenant. 

Near the end of the longest New Testament passage on marriage Paul explains, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) Every marriage between a man and a woman points in some way to Jesus and the gospel, for those who have eyes to see it, even if only in the fact that there is a deep union. The only question is, how clear and well-focused or how tarnished is that picture? But same-sex marriage does not create that picture of the gospel at all. God never intended it to, and it can’t, because it is in our very differences that we find union.


Given the cultural winds, the ideology that leads to the celebration of same-sex marriage and other gender identity issues will continue to gain ground in hearts and minds. But for Christians, while we love those involved in homosexuality as people made in the image of God, we cannot celebrate or endorse same-sex marriage, and we should encourage our legislators to do the same—for the good of families and our wider society.

Because God embedded marriage into culture as a quiet pointer to the covenant love of Jesus for his bride, Christians have more work to do in sharing our faith and discipling our kids and young believers. We have to now build a broader foundation, including the fact that God has clearly defined marriage and that it is not best for our societies or gospel witness when we tamper with it. Yet, in this context, while we have more urgent opportunities to disciple others in how God created marriage, Christian marriages can grow. We can repent of and grow in any ways that we have not pointed to Jesus in our marriages like we should. As confusion grows in what marriage actually is, Christians have an opportunity to shine brighter through living in their marriages as better representatives of Jesus—which starts in our homes and in our churches. While our broader culture becomes less clear about marriage, may we continue to proclaim that the covenant of marriage as God has designed points to the New Covenant of the gospel. And as the basic accepted definition of marriage changes, may we say with our joyful covenant-keeping what is being unsaid all around us.

By / Jul 18

Matt and Steven give a rundown of the Congressional landscape in the weeks leading up to the August recess. Includes: updates to human trafficking law, pro-life measures in appropriations, gender reassignment surgery in the military, and healthcare in the Senate. Also, the chatter among Evangelicals and Eugene Peterson.

Congressional activity

Eugene Peterson

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By / Jul 6

Evangelicals are understandably worried about the implications of the Supreme Court’s recent gay marriage decision for religious liberty. During the arguments leading up to the decision Justice Samuel Alito asked the Obama administration’s solicitor general if the right of gay marriage would jeopardize evangelical educational institutions’ tax-exempt status:

“In the Bob Jones case … the court held that a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?”

The solicitor general’s response was not reassuring:

I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics … but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is going to be an issue.

Eugene Volokh, law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, confirmed that conservatives should be concerned:

If I were a conservative Christian (which I most certainly am not) … I would be very reasonably fearful, not just as to tax exemptions but as to a wide range of other programs — fearful that within a generation or so, my religious beliefs would be treated the same way as racist religious beliefs are.

We are not just talking about photographers, florists, or cake decorators being forced to serve at gay weddings, though those concerns are legitimate. We are talking about adoption agencies being required to assign children to gay couples, colleges and universities being required to offer same-sex couples access to married housing, and any number of similar scenarios revolving around perceived discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Many Christians worry that marginalization and persecution are inevitable.

Perhaps I am naive, but I am not yet as worried that most Americans’ commitments to religious liberty are so weak as to evaporate so quickly. Should the activists and elites currently pushing the public sentiment on marriage and sexuality overreach and become radically illiberal on matters of religious liberty, I remain optimistic that their campaign will run against the still very real common sense convictions of the American people. Even the best social movements in modern American history, such as the civil rights movement of the mid-1960s, ran out of steam when they stepped ahead of public opinion. These things have a way of ebbing and flowing.

But I could be wrong. What then?

Conservatives need to do their due diligence, of course. There is hard work to be done securing the basic rights and privileges consistent with a vigorous American commitment to religious liberty. In 1993, when Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act almost unanimously in response to a Supreme Court decision that undermined religious freedom, Americans were solidly aligned behind it. Now, just twenty-two years later, the American Civil Liberties Union is withdrawing its support for the law.

Americans increasingly look upon religious liberty with suspicion. When I taught Religion and American Politics this past semester most of my undergraduates made it clear they believe evangelical talk of religious liberty is really just a cover for discrimination. Few seemed to think anyone’s religious liberty is in serious jeopardy in this country. It took hard work to persuade them to take seriously the difference between discrimination rooted in bigotry and a legitimate reluctance to perform certain services due to concerns of conscience, between a person’s refusing to sell a product to a gay person because of animus and a photographer’s sincere feeling she could not in good conscience participate in a ceremony she deemed immoral.

There is a serious communication disconnect here. Too many Christians have muddied the waters of religious liberty by using it to justify inappropriate discrimination, and as a result they have zero credibility when matters of genuine conscience are at stake. Simply put, the world can’t tell the difference.

As I wrote earlier, I have little sympathy with anyone who thinks their Christian faith ordinarily requires them to refrain from serving, living near, befriending, or otherwise loving gay and lesbian people. I believe most Christians agree with me. But refusing to participate in the celebration of a gay wedding is morally justified. How can we communicate this difference to our culture?

As believers and as churches I believe we need to do a better job demonstrating our commitment to establishing meaningful love and justice, liberty and equality, for all persons, including those who identify as LGBT. Our neighbors may not agree with the Christian version of justice, but they need to know that it is rooted in love.

In order to communicate that love, we need to worry more about communicating love and less about suffering persecution. The more self-absorbed we are, the more worried we are about perceived threats to our own businesses, schools, charities, and churches, the less we are thinking according to the mind of Christ. The more we worry about persecution and the loss of cultural power, the more we reveal how unfocused we are on the kingdom and its righteousness, and how unprepared we are to take up our cross and follow Christ. As far as the broader public can tell, evangelicals have been fixated on their own interests and political power for at least four decades now. The world sees a lot of rejection and not a lot of inclusion. Not a lot of love is shining through.

I know this public stereotype is not the whole story. Many evangelicals have long been devoting enormous energies into gospel-centered and charitable expressions of their faith rather than into politics. Though the media pays little attention to it, they have been at the forefront of struggles for justice or reform in areas of race, poverty, sex-trafficking, health care, and the environment. They lead the nation in charitable giving. And as my friend Judd Birdsall recently wrote in the Washington Post, most conservative evangelical leaders have responded to the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage in exemplary fashion. Many evangelicals are wrestling deeply with how they can communicate their love to their gay and lesbian neighbors, brothers, and sisters.

This is good. We need to continue walking in these ways. We need to be less concerned about protecting ourselves, and more concerned about securing the rights of others. We need to continue working to promote policies rooted in love and justice, while demonstrating that our convictions are grounded in the reconciling gospel of Christ. We need to be prepared to turn the other cheek, to decline to resist evil, and to rejoice to be worthy of suffering for justice and the name of Christ, even as we continue to speak and live out the truth in love.

As the week preceding Obergefell v. Hodges taught us, white American Christians have not had nearly as much practice conforming to the suffering service of Christ as have our black brothers and sisters. We have been in power for far too long, and we have much to learn. We need to continue to be engaged – you’ll hear no praising of the Benedict Option from me – but we need to make sure it is the gospel that drives our engagement, not the law. It’s time that evangelicals were once again known first and foremost for their witness to the reconciling love of Christ.

By / Jun 26

As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good.

The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.

Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.

The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:

  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Rom. 13:1-7);
  • teach the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
  • affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
  • love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
  • live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
  • cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper.

The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty. In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.

The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry. Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.

A.B Vines
Senior Pastor
New Seasons Church

Afshin Ziafat 
Lead Pastor
Providence Church – Frisco, TX.

Alistair Begg 
Senior Pastor
Parkside Church

Andrew T. Walker 
Director of Policy Studies
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Bart Barber 
First Baptist Church of Famersville

Bruce Frank 
Senior Pastor
Biltmore Baptist Church

Bryan Carter 
Concord Church

Bryan Chapell 
Senior Pastor
Grace Presbyterian Church

Bryan Loritts 
Pastor of Preaching and Mission
Trinity Grace Church, Kainos Movement

Bryant Wright 
Senior Pastor
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church

Carmen Fowler LaBerge
Presbyterian Lay Committee

Christine Hoover 

Christopher Yuan 
Speaker, Author, Bible Teacher

Clint Pressley
Pastor & Former VP of SBC
Hickory Grove Baptist Church

Collin Hansen 
Editorial Director
The Gospel Coalition

D.A. Carson 
Research Professor of NT
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

D.A. Horton 

Daniel Darling
Vice-President of Communications
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Daniel Patterson 
Chief of Staff
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Danny Akin
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

David E. Prince
Assistant Professor of Christian Preaching
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

David French 
National Review

David Jeremiah
Senior Pastor
Shadow Mountain Community Church

David S. Dockery 
Trinity International University/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

David Platt 
International Mission Board

David Uth 
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Orlando

Dean Inserra 
Lead Pastor
City Church, Tallahassee

Dennis Rainey 
Family Life Today

Eric Teetsel 
Executive Director
Manhattan Declaration

Erwin W. Lutzer 
Senior Pastor
The Moody Church

Fred Luter
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church

Gabriel Salguero 
National Latino Evangelical Coalition

H.B. Charles Jr.
Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church

Heath Lambert
Executive Director
Association of Certified Biblical Counselors

Hunter Baker 
Associate Professor of Political Science; Dean of Instruction
Union University

James MacDonald 
Harvest Bible Chapel

J.P. Moreland 
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy
Biola University

J.D. Greear 
The Summit Church

J.I. Packer 
Board of Governors’ Professor, Theology
Regent College

Jason Allen 
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Jeff Iorg
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary

Jim Daly 
Focus on the Family

Jimmy Scroggins
Lead Pastor
Family Church, West Palm Beach

John Bradosky
Presiding Bishop
North American Lutheran Church

John Stonestreet
Speaker and Fellow
The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview

Johnny Hunt 
First Baptist Church of Woodstock

Jonathan Leeman
Editorial Director

Juan R. Sanchez, Jr. 
Senior Pastor
High Pointe Baptist Church, Austin, Texas

Justin Taylor 

Karen Swallow Prior 
Fellow, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Convention Fellow
Professor of English, Liberty University

Ken Whitten 
Senior Pastor
Idlewild Baptist Church

Kevin DeYoung
Senior Pastor
University Reformed Church

Kevin Ezell 
North American Mission Board

Kevin Smith 
Teaching Pastor
Highview Baptist Church

Mark Dever
Senior Pastor
Capitol Hill Baptist Church

Marvin Olasky
WORLD Magazine

Matt Carter 
Pastor of Preaching and Vision
The Austin Stone Community Church

Matt Chandler
Senior Pastor
The Village Church

Matthew Lee Anderson
Lead Writer
Mere Orthodoxy

Mike Cosper
Pastor of Worship and Arts
Sojourn Community Church

Mike Glenn 
Senior Pastor
Brentwood Baptist Church

Naghmeh Abedini 

Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Revive our Hearts

Nathan Lino 
Lead Pastor
Northeast Houston Baptist Church

Owen Strachan
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Paul Nyquist
President and CEO
Moody Bible Institute

Phillip Bethancourt
Executive Vice President
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. 
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Ramon Osorio 
Hispanic National Church Mobilizer
North American Mission Board

Randy Alcorn 
Eternal Perspectives Ministries

Ray Ortlund 
Lead Pastor
Immanuel Nashville

Richard D. Land
Southern Evangelical Seminary

Richard Mouw 
Professor of Faith and Public Life
Fuller Seminary

Robert Sloan 
Houston Baptist University

Roger Spradlin 
Senior Pastor
Valley Baptist Church, Bakersfield, CA

Ron Sider 
Senior Distinguished Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry, and Public Policy
Palmer Seminary at Eastern University

Ronnie Floyd 
President, Southern Baptist Convention
Senior Pastor, Cross Church

Rosaria Butterfield 
Author and Speaker

Russell Moore 
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Sam Storms 
Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision
Bridgeway Church

Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver 
Union University

Samuel Rodriguez 
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Thomas White 
Cedarville University

Timothy George 
Dean and Professor of Divinity
Beeson Divinity School

Todd Wagner 
Senior Pastor
Watermark Church

Tommy Nelson Sr.
Denton Bible Church

Tony Evans
Senior Pastor
Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship

Tony Merida 
Pastor for Preaching
Imago Dei Church

Tory Baucum 
Truro Anglican Church

Trillia Newbell 
Director of Community Outreach
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Trip Lee
Rapper, Author, Pastor

Vance Pitman 
Senior Pastor
Hope Church, Las Vegas, NV

By / Apr 27

This Tuesday, April 28, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in four consolidated cases, all of which deal with the issue of same-sex marriage. It promises to be a “landmark case,” whichever way it is decided. In all likelihood this will be the Roe v. Wade of the current generation.

In cases of such cultural and legal significance, it is important for Christians to understand the arguments that are being presented. While we may have a strong theological grasp of why marriage—biblically defined—consists of a lifelong monogamous union between one man and one woman, the legal arguments concerning the constitutionality of state marriage laws is a different issue. Yet I believe that Christians should endeavor to stay informed and active in civic engagement, especially in cases like these. Though not everyone can be a constitutional scholar, anyone willing to pay attention and think critically can understand the applicable laws and principles of this case. My aim is to communicate the legal argument in favor of states with same-sex marriage bans in a way that is understandable by the ordinary person with no legal training whatsoever.

First, we must understand what is the issue, legally, that the Court will decide. The constitutional issue is not whether same-sex marriage is good or bad. Nor is it whether the view of traditional marriage is the right view. There is no constitutional argument that heterosexual marriage should be the norm for the entire nation. The issue in this cases is whether the Constitution requires states to recognize same-sex marriages. Or, to put it the other way around, does the Constitution allow each state to define marriage for itself? A careful consideration of the Constitution and relevant cases reveals that yes, each state can define marriage for itself. Consequently, the Constitution does not require every state to recognize same-sex marriages. So let’s dive into the argument. The following Question Presented is from Petitioners’ (i.e., individuals seeking same-sex marriages) brief:

QUESTION PRESENTED: (1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

A legal analysis of this question generally has three parts:

Do states have the authority to define marriage? If so, are there any constitutional constraints?
Do the state marriage laws at issue violate the 14th Amendment’s Due Process clause?
Do the state marriage laws at issue violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause?

If the answer to either questions two or three are yes, then the state laws are unconstitutional. But let’s start with question number one: Do states have the authority to define marriage? And if they do, what constitutional restraints apply to those definitions?

State Authority to Define Marriage

States traditionally have enjoyed the right to define and control the institution of marriage. Since our nation’s founding, states have overseen the civic institution of marriage, conferring benefits and establishing consequences for the breakup of marriages. The US Constitution, however, does not set a national standard for marriage that all states must follow. Simply put, the Constitution is silent on the issue of marriage; therefore, the power to regulate and define marriage is left to the states as part of their general sovereign authority.

Several Supreme Court cases have upheld and reaffirmed the state’s integral role in defining and regulating marriage. For more extensive reading on the history of the state’s involvement in marriage, the State of Utah’s Petition for Certiorari in a similar marriage case is worth a read.

More recently, however, the Supreme Court addressed this very issue in the “DOMA” case, often called the Windsor decision. This case struck down as unconstitutional the federal Defense of Marriage Act, in which the federal government refused to recognize or confer benefits to same-sex married couples. In reaching its decision to invalidate the law, the Supreme Court relied on the bedrock premise that states controlled marriage, not the federal government. In other words, the Court held that the federal government could not refuse to recognize state-sanctioned same-sex marriages precisely because the power to define and police marriage lies with each state.

Although this decision was lauded as a victory for LGBT rights, the underlying principle of the case cuts against Petitioners here. Either Windsor was incorrectly decided (and thus requires reversal), or the states can define marriage for themselves, and Petitioners’ argument fails. Simply put, our nation has a longstanding history and tradition of conferring the marriage power to states, and a decision contrary to that would fly in the face of a long list of settled legal precedent.

Even though states have the authority to define marriage, those definitions are subject to constitutional constraints that apply to all other state laws. In other words, state marriage laws must follow the constitutional protections guaranteed by the 14th Amendment (which makes most federal constitutional rights applicable to the states). This takes us to question number two: do the state laws in this case violate the 14th Amendment’s Due Process clause?

Fundamental Rights Analysis

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution generally prohibits the government from infringing upon a person’s life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Over time (and through much debate, but not a topic for this article), the Court has understood this provision of the Constitution to protect a person’s fundamental liberties from being infringed upon by the states. It is a “substantive rights” guarantee. The Constitution, however, does not specify what fundamental liberties, or “rights,” a person has. So, the Court looks to our nation’s history and tradition to determine if there is a fundamental right at stake. If there is a fundamental right at issue, then the law must be narrowly tailored to further a compelling governmental interest, using the least restrictive means available. This is called the “strict scrutiny” test, and it is a high burden to overcome.

The first step in fundamental rights analysis is to determine what is the “right” being addressed. Then, once the right is named specifically, the Court will determine if that right is “fundamental,” i.e., a constitutionally protected liberty interest. A right is fundamental in American law if it is “so deeply rooted” in our nation’s history and tradition as to be implicit to the concept of ordered liberty. (Unfortunately, the existence or non-existence of these rights depends upon the makeup of the Supreme Court.)

If, however, the identified right is not a fundamental right, then the Court applies the “rational basis” test to the law. Under rational basis review, the law must simply bear a rational basis to furthering a legitimate government interest. It is a fairly low standard of review—most laws withstand this test.

Let’s consider the fundamental rights analysis with respect to the current marriage cases before the Court. In the Petitioners’ written brief, they describe the right at issue as “the right to marry the one adult of their choice,” regardless of gender. To be sure, the wording is crafted carefully and intentionally. According to Petitioners, though, this right—as stated—is fundamental to American liberty. But let’s consider this assertion in the light of our nation’s history and tradition.

The 14th Amendment, on which the Petitioners rely, was adopted in 1868. At that time, no state recognized same-sex marriages. In fact, no sovereign nation in the entire world allowed same-sex couples to marry until the year 2000. In America, the first state to allow same-sex marriage (Massachusetts) did not do so until 2004—a mere decade ago. Therefore, it is a far stretch of the imagination to assert that the right of persons to marry the one adult of their choice—independent of gender—is “so deeply rooted in our nation’s history and tradition” as to be implicit to the concept of ordered liberty. Ordered liberty has flourished in this country for nearly 250 years without same-sex marriage. If anything, one could say that sexual complimentarity in marriage is deeply rooted in our nation’s history and tradition, not same-sex marriage. To say that it is a fundamental right does not line up with what, by definition, constitutes a fundamental right. The Supreme Court has used this line of reasoning as recently as the Windsor decision.

Moreover, the Petitioners did not provide any limiting principle to this fundamental right to marry other than that it be the “one” person that another person chooses to marry. But this ignores other longstanding prohibitions against marriage choice that operate as legitimate (and unquestioned) constraints on marriage options. For example, most—if not all—states have some sort of law prohibiting marriage between, say, brother and sister. These “consanguinity” laws remain unchallenged, yet they clearly operate against the Petitioners’ definition of the fundamental right to marry. There are other examples, but the point is that the freedom to marry whomever one wants is not deeply rooted in our nation’s history and tradition. Same-sex marriage, therefore, is not a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.

So, if same-sex marriage is not a fundamental right, the Court should apply the rational basis test, where the law must bear some rational basis related to furthering a legitimate government interest. But even under this test, the Petitioners argue that same-sex marriage bans bear no rational relationship to a legitimate government interest. Instead, they argue that bans on same-sex marriage are based solely on an arbitrary animus towards same-sex sexual relationships and homosexual individuals. A closer look at what marriage is, and its relationship to an ordered civil society, however, reveals that this claim is false. Even more, an honest look at the historical record reveals that traditional definitions of marriage are not based on an animus towards gays and lesbians. Indeed, throughout history, societies that were notably tolerant of homosexual behavior still defined marriage as between one man and one woman. For an extended discussion on this topic, I recommend Ryan T. Anderson’s lecture at Franciscan University on the uniqueness of man-woman marriage and its role in society.

Simply put, the government has a legitimate interest in the success of the family as the foundation of a civil society. Many states, relying on voluminous social science data, have concluded that a married mother and father under one roof is the most stable and healthy environment in which to raise children. The unique advantages that a sexually complimentary marital relationship provides for children is well-documented and extensive. Petitioners, though, largely ignore this data. So, in order to promote a flourishing family structure and society, several states have defined the marriage relationship to be the heterosexually monogamous relationship between one man and one woman. True, not all couples have children, and many couples who desire children cannot have them. But the fact remains that man-woman marriage is the preferred family situation for raising any children that may result from a marital union. Excluding the requirement of sexual complimentarity in marriage ignores this biological and teleological reality. Governments, therefore, have endeavored to create a structure in which families and children can thrive. Surely the government has at least a legitimate interest in providing a culture in which families can flourish and children can thrive.

In order to pass muster, then, the state’s law must bear a rational relationship to this interest. Clearly, defining marriage as between a man and a woman is rationally related to the government’s objective of promoting a stable and productive family atmosphere. This is a low standard, but the positive relationship between stable family environments and a stable and productive society is well documented—and rational. Petitioners, however, must go so far as to say that this relationship, and the belief that children deserve the chance to be raised by both mother and father, is completely irrational. Completely irrational! This is a bold claim. Taken to its logical end, Petitioners must affirm that millenia of experience and social science are completely irrational and meaningless.

The truth is that state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman do have a rational basis in furthering a legitimate government interest. The state laws, therefore, withstand the fundamental rights analysis. On to question three: do the states’ laws violate the Equal Protection clause?

Equal Protection Analysis

The next part of the analysis focuses on the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, which says that no state shall deny any person “equal protection of the laws.” Historically, this has been understood to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race. All laws should apply equally to all people, regardless of race. Under modern Equal Protection analysis, however, there is a two-part test.

The first element of the test seeks to determine if the law disfavors, or treats differently, a protected class of persons. “Protected class” status has traditionally been reserved for classifications based on race, and to some extent, sex. If a law treats members of a protected class differently, then the Court will apply the “strict scrutiny” test mentioned above. If there is a “quasi-protected class,” such as a classification based on sex (or sexual orientation, as argued by Petitioners), then the court will use an analysis called “intermediate scrutiny.” In order to meet the heightened scrutiny standard, a law must be “closely related” to an “important government interest.” And if there is no protected class, the Court will apply the rational basis test.

Petitioners in this case mount an attack on marriage laws on two separate fronts. First, they argue that same-sex marriage bans discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and that sexual orientation discrimination should trigger the “heightened scrutiny” standard of review. Second, they argue that, even if heightened scrutiny does not apply, the states’ same-sex marriage bans do not pass even the rational basis test.

Because we have already discussed the rational basis analysis, let’s address the claim that same-sex marriage bans discriminate against gays and lesbians on the basis of their sexual orientation. Petitioners’ argument on this claim absolutely depends upon the premise that same-sex marriage bans discriminate against certain people on the basis of their sexual orientation. A closer look at the issue, however, reveals that this is simply false. (In my opinion, this is the most important part of the analysis, and a point often overlooked).

The truth is that defining marriage to include only a man and a woman has nothing to do with sexual orientation. It has everything to do with sexual complimentarity. A ban on same-sex marriage does not, as Petitioners argue, foreclose the option of marriage for homosexual individuals. Many gay and lesbian men and women have entered into fulfilling, loving, and successful marriages. In fact, a group of same-sex attracted men filed a “friend of the Court” brief to show (and admirably so) that LGBT persons can enter into faithful and meaningful man-woman marriages. If Petitioners are correct that same-sex marriage bans foreclose the entire LGBT population from fulfilling marriages, then they must also affirm that the myriad man-woman marriages entered into by homosexual men and women are shams and virtually meaningless.

This point bears repeating (because Petitioners have done an excellent job of framing the issue): same-sex marriage bans do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Same sex marriage bans do not prevent gays and lesbians from marrying; gay and lesbian individuals are as equally free to choose to enter a marriage relationship as heterosexual individuals. The claim that same-sex marriage bans discriminate against gays and lesbians is simply false. The basis for “discrimination” in this case is sexual complimentarity, not sexual orientation. And sexual complimentarity is not a protected class under the Constitution.

Because the classification at issue does not have “protected class” status, heightened scrutiny should not apply, and the Court should engage in the rational basis test outlined above. Given the leniency of rational basis review, the state laws should withstand the proper Equal Protection analysis.


Same-sex marriage, simply put, is not a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. Nor do same-sex marriage bans unfairly discriminate against gays and lesbians on account of their sexual orientation. Appeals to constitutional equality alone do not tell us which version of marriage should apply equally to all. And because the Constitution is silent on the definition of marriage, the ability to define its parameters should be left to each state.

Resources for Further Study:

Preview on same-sex marriage — Part II, The states’ views

No Constitutional Right to Same-Sex Marriage, Circuit Court Rules

By / Apr 10

Opinion editorials contain opinions. They rarely contain only opinions. Columnists generally make some attempt to explain his or her views and to marshal arguments and evidence designed to persuade readers why they, too, should hold certain opinions.

On April 3rd, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni managed to pen an entire op-ed column filled with nothing but the opinion part. Entitled, “Bigotry, the Bible, and the Lessons of Indiana,” Bruni boldly asserts that “homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.” This is a risible claim, given that every Christian community worldwide for the past 2,000 years (until about yesterday) has been unequivocal on the matter. So what arguments does Bruni advance for his thesis? Actually, there’s only one, and I’ll summarize it: Some Christians have changed their minds to agree with me, and therefore everybody else had better follow suit. Or else.

This is not hyperbole. That is the sum and substance of Bruni’s entire case for why Christians must be “made” to remove homosexuality from the “sin list.” It might look like Bruni is offering other arguments; for example, he makes an appeal to “authorities” like David Gushee, Jimmy Creech, and Matthew Vines. But that’s just another way of repeating his premise: “Some Christians have changed their minds to agree with me.” He refers to recent polls, which always gives the allusion that some strong evidentiary basis is bolstering the argument. But it is just another repetition: “And lots of other people have changed their minds to agree with me.”

So how does he get to his “therefore”? What is the logical connection between “lots of people agree with me” to “everybody else ought to be made to agree with me?” There isn’t any logical connection, and Bruni doesn’t even attempt to make one. In place of an argument, from top to bottom, Bruni’s column is an astonishing list of pure ex cathedra pronouncements. Here are a few worth observing:

1. Adhering to biblical sexual ethics “prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since—as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.”

Well, “prioritizes” means that Christians believe and submit to it, and “scattered” means you can find it all over the Bible, beginning, middle, and end. Bruni thinks people shouldn’t believe it, but why? Because they’re “ancient.” He doesn’t offer any examples of scientific discoveries that have settled moral questions, but since they can’t (description is not prescription—“is” cannot, by itself, provide you with a moral “ought”) that bit of rhetoric is literally meaningless. * This is purely a matter of arbitrary chronology: For Bruni, newer equals better, recent equals enlightened.

* Although, as a thought experiment, I wonder if the advances in the science of embryology has changed his views on abortion; or does such newfound knowledge mean “nothing” to him?

I’m reminded of Denny Crane, a character brilliantly played by William Shatner a few years ago in the shows The Practice and Boston Legal. Crane, suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, would endearingly stand up and offer completely nonsensical arguments in court, always leading up to his final clinching argument: simply stating his name. “Your Honor, Denny Crane.” That’s pretty much what we have here: “Newer is always better than older… Frank Bruni.” Actually, Denny Crane was so harmless and adorable I’d be inclined to believe it if he said it. But Bruni doesn’t have that kind of goodwill, not when he’s threatening people with the loss of their livelihoods and liberty.

2. Adhering to biblical sexual ethics “disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.”

I would assume “all writings” includes his own, but I suspect Bruni hasn’t thought very deeply whether he personally or his culture and era more broadly has any biases or blind spots. And it would be nice if Bruni would outline just how he knows whether some view or another is a result of mere biases or blind spots—as it stands, the only method for discriminating seems to be chronology. And he does seem to really believe that the latestthing to be said is the truest thing to be said. This might explain the weird emphasis he places on the timing of the various books he cites: Gushee’s book was published “late last year.” Another book was “published in 2013.” And another, “published in 2013.” “Then,” he writes, “there’s the 2014 book” by Matthew Vines. Recent vintage seems to matter to Bruni, and that is just bizarre. Mein Kampf was written more recently than nearly every piece of classic literature. I don’t think we should conclude anything from that fact.

Further, this sentence strongly suggests that Bruni has never read any orthodox Christian engagment with the ancient texts of the Bible. In truth, orthodox scholars arguably spend too much time wrestling with the cultural context and historical eras of the biblical authors, at the expense of its transcultural application. Be that as it may, nobody can justly read, say, Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice (scholarship’s gold standard) and accuse him of “disregarding” cultural and historical context.

3. Adhering to biblical sexual ethics “ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.”

Anyone who thinks orthodox biblical scholars are somehow blind to how presuppositions and precomittments affect the hermeneutical task is (to put it bluntly) wholly unfamiliar with Christian scholarship. Particularly (but hardly exclusively) in the aftermath of postmodernism, scholarship has been well-nigh obsessed with the question—and not in a purely reactionary way, either. An evangelical stalwart like Kevin Vanhoozer dedicates his voluminous life’s work to exploring how to read biblical texts without simply finding there what you expect to find, Anthony Thiselton writes dense tomes on hermeneutics the average New York Times columnist couldn’t even read, much less comprehend, but Christian scholarship is ignorant. There is ignorance going around, but not on the part of Christian scholarship.

Oh, and keep your eye on this one. Because after telling us that the Bible is obscure and that nobody can really know what it teaches, Bruni will quickly abandon that idea: He praises Matthew Vines for “his eloquent take on what the New Testament — which is what evangelicals draw on and point to — really communicates.”

4. To avoid being tedious, I’ll summarize a bit: No such column would be complete without assertions that Christian believers are unthinking, enslaved to prejudice, homophobic, and just itching to discriminate against gays. There is no argument and no examples offered in support of any of these claims. They are sheer declarations designed to cast his favored public figures (those who have changed their mind to agree with him) as enlightened ones, and the entire constituency they’ve left as ignorant, bitterly clinging rubes.

5. Regarding that constituency, Bruni wholeheartedly agrees with David Gushee that “Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people.” Speaking of blind spots and biases, Bruni and Gushee have weirdly blinkered out the billion and a half Muslims who are not exactly known for accepting the LGBT agenda. Be that as it may, notice the curious phrase, “full acceptance of LGBT people.” This is willfully misleading. All people are welcome in Christian communities. Let me repeat that: all people are welcome in Christian communities. It is the behaviors associated with the letters L, G, B, and T that are problematic. But it is all too common these days for people to believe that (some) behaviors equal “identity.” So, yes, Christians have problems with sexual immorality, and lying, and thieving, and drunkenness; they simply refuse to allow people to define themselves by their sins (think for a moment about what a gloriously humanitarian impulse that is). And, it bears mentioning, so does Frank Bruni. That why there’s a (some) in the sentence above. He isn’t about to allow pedophiles and rapists to latch on to the “I was born that way; who are you to judge?” mantra. Of course, Christians happen to be in the enviable position of having a rationale for denying them the claim; I’m not sure what the sexual revolutionaries can plausibly say.

6. What about those appeals to his chosen experts? Bruni makes no effort to argue that they are correct in their reinterpretations of Christian ethics; his point is simply that they have changed their minds. And, therefore, so must everybody else. But simply reporting their reasons for changing their minds is not the same thing as advancing their arguments. It doesn’t follow.

Notwithstanding, we are told by David Gushee that Christians have changed their minds about slavery and contraception; therefore, they should change their minds on sexual ethics. But let’s get something straight: people changed their minds about slavery because people like William Wilberforce tirelessly and persuasively argued from the Biblefrom the Bible. Because—and this should be obvious—the Bible was on their side. The people to whom Bruni turns are saying something pretty much 180 degrees different: ignore the Bible. It’s an archaic book, and its sexual ethics should be abandoned for an “enlightened” view. That is the argument. This is one reason (among others) it is perverse to attempt any kind of harmony between a pro-LGBT argument and arguments against slavery or Jim Crow: one embraces the Bible, the other rejects it.

Contraception is a telling example mainly because of its irrelevance. There is no clear, obvious, or sustained emphasis on the matter in the Bible; therefore, it has been and remains a debated question in Christian circles, particularly in Evangelical Protestantism. This has virtually no relationship to whether homosexual behavior is acceptable because the Bible contains, by contrast, a clear, obvious, and sustained emphasis on sexual matters. Moreover, this all misses a rather important point: no Christian endorses contraception while believing that the Bible teaches otherwise. And that is what Gushee and friends are asking Christians to do.

Next, ex-United Methodist Minister, Jimmy Creech, informs us that the Bible “clearly teaches” that “women are second-class, inferior and subordinate to men.” Well, the Bible teaches no such thing; it’s a gross caricature and he knows it. I’d be perfectly justified moving on, but I wish to point out that the single greatest factor for the elevation of women from their often brutal subjugation in the ancient world was the Bible, particularly its teaching on marriage. Let’s hashtag that one: #ArgumentFail.

Finally, Matthew Vines provides an “eloquent take…on what the New Testament really teaches.” Vines certainly is eloquent, but he has no expertise in any field relevant to the question at hand. That doesn’t stop Bruni from serving as his ventriloquist:

Evaluating [the New Testament’s] sparse invocations of homosexuality, [Vines] notes that there wasn’t any awareness back then that same-sex attraction could be a fundamental part of a person’s identity, or that same-sex intimacy could be an expression of love within the context of a nurturing relationship.

Notice that Vines doesn’t argue, he “notes.” Never mind that everything Vines says here is dubious and hotly debated; for Frank Bruni, it is a mere matter of “noting.” He goes on:

“It was understood as a kind of excess, like drunkenness, that a person might engage in if they lost all control, not as a unique identity,” Vines told me, adding that Paul’s rejection of same-sex relations in Romans 1 was “akin to his rejection of drunkenness or his rejection of gluttony.”

“Vines told me.” And Bruni listened, and didn’t question any of it. Finally, “Vines said that the New Testament, like the Old Testament, outlines bad and good behaviors that almost everyone deems archaic and irrelevant today. Why deem the descriptions of homosexual behavior any differently?” Bruni obviously doesn’t read any of the relevant literature, since this last question has been answered ad nauseam (Answer: The Bible treats them differently). He prefers to pick up the phone and get his talking points straight from non-biblical scholars. There’s a term for this kind of uncritical acceptance of dubious claims, a phrase I learned from Bruni’s own Op-Ed: “unthinking obeisance.”

7. Finally, if public opinion polls are sufficient to tell us what is morally right (and that is the only reason they are invoked in the column), then why did Frank Bruni oppose California’s Proposition 8? Isn’t an actual vote more significant than a mere poll? Was Bruni celebrating as state after state successfully passed marriage amendments? Or is it the case that everyone should fall in lockstep only with pluralities who share the enlightened views of Frank Bruni?

Well, in his closing paragraph he finally drops all pretense:

[Mitchell] Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.” His commandment is worthy — and warranted.

That makes at least two New York Times employees publicly calling for the forced coercion of people with religious consciences. And if Bruni’s editorial is any indication, they’re past the point of bothering with an argument.

By / Mar 20

Recent controversies about the nature of marriage, assisted suicide, the conduct and personnel policies of Christian institutions, and other fraught questions have brought to the forefront of civic discourse among Christians a reticence to be perceived as making judgments. American Christians, especially evangelical Protestants, are judgment-shy. This is not without reason. A handful of prominent Christians have expressed judgment in unloving ways, and a willing secular media has celebrated them as typical Christians. But it is an over-reaction to empty oneself of all practical judgment. The effect of non-judgmentalism is to replace, Seek first the Kingdom of God, with, Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

One species of the broader phenomenon of non-judgmentalism is today far too prevalent among many Christians. It takes the form of the trope that to affirm the categorical and absolute moral norms contained in natural law, human law, or (especially) the Bible or Christian teaching is judgmental, and therefore wrong. Call it the Non-Judgmentalist Assertion. The assertion is both incoherent and unloving.

We might note in passing that behind the assertion is pride dressed up as humility. I am not like those who are judgmental. I don’t judge. But leave that aside and focus here on the problems with the assertion itself.

The Non-Judgmentalist Assertion: Incoherent and Unloving

The first problem is the assertion’s incoherence. The Non-Judgmentalist Assertion generally takes one of three forms. The non-judgmentalist might assert that: (1) A’s action of judging wrongful the action of B is wrong; or (2) A’s action of judging B for taking some action is wrong; or (3) A deserves disapprobation for judging the actions of B or for judging B.

Notice that 1 and 3 are operationally self-refuting. If it is wrong to judge another’s actions wrongful then there is no basis to judge wrongful the act of judging someone’s actions wrongful. If it is wrong to judge a person then there is no basis for judging the person who judges.

In fact, those who assert the Non-Judgmentalist Assertion have no principled objection to judging. Instead, they object to making judgments with which others disagree, or which are controversial, or which might hurt someone’s feelings (unless that someone is deemed, in the judgment of the non-judgmentalist, to be judgmental). Notice that these criteria are entirely subjective. Some judgments should be judged right and others wrong, but not according to the truth or falsity of the judgment.

Form 2 of the assertion is not self-refuting but it generally lands well wide of its intended target. It consists of the non-sequitor that to judge someone’s action (eg, an act of intentional self-destruction, or non-marital intimacy, or abortion) to be wrongful is to judge the person (eg, the destination of her soul or her putatively lesser moral status). This canard is so obviously absurd that it borders on bad faith.

The second problem, which deserves more attention, is just how unloving the Non-Judgmentalist Assertion really is. If someone I love is engaged in wrong conduct then I ought to–and will, if I genuinely love him or her–point out that what he or she is doing is wrong and is likely to lead to a harmful end.

We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. So how do I love myself? Well, I love myself first by rendering practical judgments upon my own choices and actions, then by acting upon those judgments. I judge that it is better to brush my teeth than to let them rot, and I love myself by acting on that judgment. I love myself by judging that I should not ingest heroin, commit adultery, or eat that extra cookie; and by judging that I ought to read good books, give to charities, and take the stairs rather than the elevator. I render these judgments on the grounds not only that acting rightly will please God, but also that acting rightly will go well for me.

Actions that are good and right are directed toward good and right ends—life, health, knowledge, community, and virtue. Actions that are bad and wrong are directed toward death, illness, ignorance, alienation, and vice, or are directed at good ends by wrongful means. Because one must distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong, in order to act well, judgment is necessarily entailed in self-love. Precisely to the extent that I judge my actions good and bad, right and wrong, and act upon those judgments I am loving myself. Precisely to the extent that I fail to make those judgments or fail to act upon them I fail to love myself.

For “my” and “myself” in the previous two sentences substitute “my neighbor’s” and “my neighbor.” The logic is the same. So, judgment is entailed in loving one’s neighbor.

Don’t we want our lives to go well for us? Of course we do; we act like we do. The question therefore is: Why don’t we want our neighbors’ lives to go well for them, too?

Of course, pleasing God is also important. Right judgments evince a will that is pointed toward God’s eternal kingdom. Wrong judgments, or a refusal to make right judgments (which often amounts to the same thing as wrong judgments), evince a will that is directed toward That Other Place. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Christ told us.

God calls us to love others as He loves us. And God is not content to leave us in our rebellion and sin precisely because He loves us. Right judgment is entailed in His love; it necessary precedes his mercy and grace.

The truth is that the authority of God and the love of God are inextricably tied together. Without the love of God the righteous judgment of God would destroy us all. But without right judgment, love is meaningless. We are called to share God’s love, not to mouth insipid greeting-card slogans.

 Anticipating Some Objections

Yes, yes, I know: Judge not, lest you be judged, and all that. (Matthew 7:1-6, for those of you not proof-texting at home.) This is followed by the admonition first to remove the plank from our own eyes, and then to remove the speck from the other guy’s eye. It does not take a theologian or Bible scholar to notice that, in context, this cannot mean, Never make any moral judgments. For Christ admonishes his followers to make all sorts of judgments, many involving people other than themselves. And having first removed the wood from one’s own eye, what loving Christian leaves his friends to walk around blind?

I am emphatically not suggesting that we ought to walk around thumping people on the head with a King James Bible yelling, Repent thou sinner!, as if we are not sinners ourselves. But we should not fail to speak of the reality and effects of sin. In a world that has forgotten how to live well, we sometimes need to exercise right judgment about actions not only with our lives but also with our mouths.

I am also emphatically not claiming that we should render judgment about the eternal fate of the people who take wrong actions. There are many tepid people who avoid grave sins but also fail to love God and their neighbors (perhaps I am one of them); just as there are many people who burn hot as they run in all directions, who make tragic blunders and perform heroic deeds of faith and love (perhaps I am one of them, too). Which one gets the eternal reward? I have no idea. The point is that we should be prepared to admonish the tepid person to perform great deeds and to admonish the fiery person to avoid pitfalls. And we should be prepared to do this whether the tepid or fiery person is ourselves or someone else.

Yes, Christians are called to exercise mercy, and to forgive. And notice that the Non-Judgmentalist Assertion renders that call meaningless. Show mercy in lieu of what righteous, just response? Forgive what offense? The non-judgmentalist has no answer. Only the person who judges rightly can show mercy. Only someone who recognizes wrong can forgive that wrong.

 Loving by Judging

How can we judge well so that we can love our neighbors well? Serious Christians ought to give that question serious consideration, yet in our day the problem is largely unexplored. In the space I have left, allow me to open to view just one area in need of exploration.

Consider how Christians might respond to the marriage crisis that our nation is currently experiencing. Many Christians are reticent to speak out about the evils of divorce, cohabitation, adultery, and out-of-wedlock birth for fear of offending divorced people, single mothers, and sexually-active young people. But consider that many of those people might actually want us to judge. For example, in our age of unmarried cohabitation and no-fault divorce, many single parents, divorced people, and especially children have been wronged by unfaithful exes and parents but have been denied the vindication that attends a legal judgment in their favor. By expressing moral disapproval of infidelity and abandonment we demonstrate our concern for those who have been harmed by the licentiousness of the sexual revolution and our belief that the wrongs they have suffered really matter.

And even those who do not want to hear our moral expressions might need to hear them. If a man is considering leaving his wife or his pregnant girlfriend and no one is willing to challenge him to be manly—to honor the obligations he has created for himself—then he is far more likely to perform an action that will cause tangible harm to his girlfriend, wife, or children and great moral harm to himself.

There is more to it than this, of course. But we need to start by acknowledging that exercising right judgment about human choices and actions—our own and others’—is the loving thing to do.

Adam J. MacLeod
Adam J. MacLeod is Associate Professor at Faulkner University, Jones School of Law. He holds degrees from Gordon College and the University of Notre Dame.

By / Mar 18

Recently, someone in my Facebook news feed shared a video that carried the caption, “Is this real?” It was a newscast from FOX 25 in Boston that cited a German study that found that men who regularly stare at a woman’s breasts have a lower rate of heart problems, a lower resting heart rate, and lower blood pressure. The reporter closes by saying that the study’s authors recommend that men stare at a woman’s breasts for 10 minutes a day.

FOX 25 in Boston did run this story on their newscast back in 2011, but quickly did a mea culpa after viewers pointed out that some version of this internet hoax has been around since 1999. Yet here we are three years after this video aired and 15 years after the original hoax made its way around the internet and some of us are still wondering out loud if it’s true.

Viral videos are all the rage right now. Everyone I know has shared an hilarious or outlandish viral video of some sort. Recently I’ve shared rednecks using a chain link fence gate to shoot off 8,500 fireworks at one time, bad lip-reading of NFL players, and Minions playing soccer. I actually frequent Facebook less and less these days because my 2/3rds of the posts friends share are videos that I don’t have time nor the interest to watch. (Anyone else hate Facebook’s autoplay?) And of those on which I might be interested in wasting a few minutes of my short life, I no longer trust many of them to be authentic thanks to the rise of fake viral videos.

As with all emerging technologies, it takes time for the ability to create new content in a new technology to become ubiquitous. The first thing to become cheap on the internet was email. As a result earliest internet hoaxes were shared via forwarded email from one person to the next. Universities hosted the servers that made up the backbone of the internet. It was a cheap perk for universities to give students free email accounts and those students, fueled with spare time, a penchant for trouble, and long list of friends waiting to be suckered, happily engaged in the popularization of mass-email hoaxes. One of the earliest websites on the internet was dedicated to separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

Despite the almost immediate rise of email hoaxes, fake content generally did not apply to regular web pages. In the early days of the internet, it was really hard to create a website. You had to go to Network Solutions to get a domain name (paying $35 a year), find a provider to host your site (paying an often-steep monthly fee), and have the proper UNIX coding to ensure that when someone typed that they ended up in the right place. And then after all that, you had to actually code your content in this language called “HTML” or get someone else to do it for you (along with the opportunity to pay even more $$). A basic website in 1995 easily cost the unexperienced person hundreds or even thousands of dollars to set up the first time. And then you had to maintain it.

Those barriers to entry meant that the content you found online (outside of email) generally had a level of trustworthiness to it. After all, no one wanted to spend that much money or go to that much effort just to play a prank on folks. That reality slowly changed as AOL and other early mass internet providers created the ability of regular people to easily and cheaply create their own web content on the company’s own servers. Soon after, the barrier to creating your own website with your own domain name fell as well giving way to today’s standard where you can now have your own site and content for just a few clicks and even fewer dollars. Now a website content’s trustworthiness is not in the fact that it exists, but is instead based on the brand that runs and maintains it.

This pattern of ‘high trustworthiness due to high barriers of entry’ giving way to ‘low trustworthiness due to low barriers of entry’ is now underway with online video. And it’s not simply because shooting video and posting it online has become easy for anyone with a smartphone to do. It’s also because it has become extremely simple to edit those easily-shot videos into something completely fabricated.

The video that started undermining my faith in the medium was this viral YouTube sensation uploaded back in 2011 showing a man on a security camera struck by lightning twice on the same sidewalk in less than a minute. I was hooked.

The feeling you get later when you learn that something you believed to be real is actually a fake is akin to betrayal. When I saw the man struck by lightning twice, I made an emotional investment by believing what I thought I was seeing and saying to myself, “Wow, that’s amazing.”

Then I went a step further. I shared this video with lots of friends on social media. Soon a kind soul directed me to this video by a visual effects expert with a technical frame-by-frame deconstruction of the original debunking the whole thing. Embarrassed, I deleted it from my social media accounts and swore to myself about how stupid I had been for not checking its authenticity first. Not only had I been betrayed, but now countless people also knew I had been suckered. Anyone who has ever been betrayed by a friend, romantic interest or business associate can attest that it’s bad enough to be betrayed, but worse to know other people watched you waste your trust so easily.

Now there are countless fake viral videos out there that people regularly share believing them to be true such as the clumsy waitress that falls through a window (windows don’t break like that), there’s the kid who lies in between the railroad track rails and driven over by a train (which has been removed from YouTube presumably because of concern over kids actually trying this and dying), the rich girl who freaks out over her dad buying her the wrong color car (a Domino’s Pizza viral campaign), and my favorite, Hamas forgetting to remove the explosive vest before heading off to bury a would-be suicide bomber.

While there is deception and betrayal around us every day, fake viral videos in social media occupy a unique place. They are attractive to people of all ages and stages, they are often difficult to recognize as false, and they are so compelling that they beg to be shared with others. When shared, the lie often turns and bites the person who shared it in a very public and personal way. Every online social circle these days seems to have at least one person whose apparent mission in life is to publicly castigate anyone who shares fake social media content without having done an exhaustive search of Snopes, Urban Legends, Urban Myths and Truth or Fiction first.

Additionally they are visual and directly confuse your visual sensory perception. This is fundamentally different than the breakdown in trust that has existed since the Fall around the true or false nature of words. Words, whether spoken or written, do not directly communicate with the sensory perception other than to merely pass through on their way to being assembled by the brain where they are judged by the ideas they communicate. But when you lose the ability to believe what you perceive through your senses in the first place, especially when perceiving what appears to be an everyday life situation, your mooring on reality becomes tenuous. Imagine how awful perceiving reality would be if magic tricks were constantly being performed around you but without the limiting context of a magician or a stage. It would be simpler to just go crazy.

The prevalence in our culture of fake visual content will have a subtle but real impact on how we share our faith with others. The greater the doubt people have about the veracity of what they are perceiving via a particular sense, the more isolated people become, uncertain of what to believe when faced with some new information. Whenever you have to apply additional tests and verification methods to ensure what you are perceiving is actually real, you lose the desire to both pursue and know reality because getting to truth requires so much work.

A key difference between fake viral videos and any other visual manipulations is that theirs is no limiting factor that helps us differentiate between falsehood and reality. Whether it be in a movie, on a stage or the manipulator himself having an official title, there has always been a point where the false image stops and reality takes back over. With fake visuals masquerading as truth, you cannot be sure what to believe.

Eventually, the current craze over viral videos will fade. We’ll have gotten tired of them and have reached the point that we feel like we’ve seen it all. One more medium will have been saturated with an overabundance of once-compelling content that no longer entertains us.

But the assault on the once-believable medium of visual perception will have a coarsening effect of our ability to perceive truth. Not only will a method of communicating will have been co-opted, but thanks to social media, we will have all been personally and publicly betrayed by it. The quest to believe a message as truth and trust someone as authentic will be a bit harder. Rather than do the extra work to ensure we are correctly perceiving truth, it’ll be easier to simply pick a form of entertainment and allow our mind to turn to mush.