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 / Dec 22

Marriage and the family unit were established by God at the very beginning of creation as the first institutions. Genesis 1 and 2 shows us how God fashioned man and woman in his image, brought them together as one flesh, and gave them the charge to be fruitful and multiply, or bear children. God works in many ways, but it’s through marriage and family that some of his greatest blessings abound to the world and bring about flourishing.

Because of the importance of these God-ordained institutions in preserving and prospering our society, the ERLC will continue to advocate for policies that maintain and protect these essential aspects of life together. God’s ways are for our good, whether or not our culture recognizes this to be true. While marriage and family will not be perfect in the midst of a fallen world, it’s our responsibility as Christians to continue to champion God’s design and see it upheld for the good of our neighbor. 

Sexual Ethics event

One of the ways the ERLC carried out this aspect of our mission this year was by devoting significant attention to sexual ethics. Specifically, we addressed this topic in the month of June because of its unavoidable cultural designation as “Pride Month.” 

Jason Thacker hosted an online event called, Discipling Your Church For a World in Sexual Crisis, which featured Andrew T. Walker, Dean Inserra, and Katie McCoy, and sought to equip churches and individuals to understand this current cultural moment and engage in these important discussions. In addition to this event, we featured much-needed resources on the topic of sexual ethics including:

House Passage of the Adoptee Citizenship Act

Another way we sought to promote the health of families was through legislation. Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally were unnecessarily burdensome. The process included applying for and moving through a lengthy naturalization process for their children, in addition to the lengthy and costly adoption process. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the United States who had at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, that act only applied to adoptees under the age of 18 when the bill was enacted, leaving an entire population of adopted children without full U.S. citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these children already adopted by U.S. citizens yet left out of the previous bill.

The ERLC has supported the Adoptee Citizenship Act for years. We have been engaged with a broad coalition invested in child welfare to urge members of Congress to swiftly pass this bill and secure permanent citizenship for the thousands of impacted adoptees. In March of 2021, the ERLC wrote a coalition letter to the House of Representatives urging them to swiftly pass this vital piece of legislation. 

In February of 2022, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1953, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021. An amended version of the bill passed the Senate, but the House disagreed with the Senate’s amendments and left the bill in limbo. The House’s bipartisan action on this bill is a promising first step, but we urge members of both houses of Congress to agree on legislative language and pass this crucial bill.

The Equality Act

One of the greatest legislative challenges the ERLC has engaged with is The Equality Act. In February 2021, the House passed The Equality Act (H.R. 5.)—a bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law. The bill would curtail religious freedom protections, hinder the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately steamroll the consciences of millions of Americans.

The Equality Act would also gut the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The removal of this act would force faith-based child welfare organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down by the state. The Equality Act would also force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. 

The ERLC has worked tirelessly to defeat this bill. We have partnered with a broad coalition of more than 85 faith-based nonprofits, religious entities, and institutions of higher education to highlight the dangers of H.R. 5. We have raised these concerns with members of Congress and the administration through coalition letters and countless meetings with members, administration officials, and their staff. We have also engaged in public advocacy against the bill by producing a suite of resources available on our website to inform Christians and the broader public about the pernicious threat of H.R. 5. 

We will continue to lead efforts to oppose the Equality Act and any similar legislation introduced this Congress. As we do so, we will advocate for a public square solution that protects and upholds the dignity of all people and their rights, while ensuring that religiously motivated individuals and institutions are free to live and act according to their deeply held convictions.

Advocacy against SOGI provisions

The ERLC has also spoken out against the Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX, which would expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI). These dangerous federal guidances would allow biological men to participate in collegiate women’s sports and would penalize institutions that fail to expand the definition of sex to include SOGI. The ERLC submitted public comments urging the department to alter this proposed rule. 

In addition, the ERLC has also spoken out against the Department of Health and Human Services’ addition of sexual orientation and gender identity language to multiple nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act. This rule would mandate gender-affirming care and would impede the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals. The ERLC submitted public comments to the HHS urging them to alter this proposed rule. 

In all of these challenges, the ERLC will continue to advocate for the recognition of God’s good design for biological sex and for the protection of religious liberty.

By / Dec 5

On Dec. 5, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in 303 Creative v. Elenis, an important case for free speech and religious liberty. Since 2016, Lorie Smith, founder of the web design firm 303 Creative, has been in the process of challenging a Colorado law that violates her First Amendment rights. It is the same law that was used to target Jack Phillips and which led to the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. In that case, the court ruled favorably for Jack Phillips on narrow grounds but failed to address the underlying conflict between anti-discrimination laws and free speech rights.

A decision in this landmark case involving 303 Creative is expected in May or June of 2023.

What is this case about?

Like Phillips, and like Barronelle Stutzman of the Arlene’s Flowers Inc. v. Washington case, Lorie Smith is a creative professional who serves anyone through her business. She has created all kinds of custom websites for all types of people, but she refuses to use her “design skills and creativity to express messages that violate her deeply held religious convictions.” 

The state of Colorado views Smith’s work as a public accommodation, and thus, it is subject to Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination, including refusal of service, against any protected class, including sexual orientation or gender identity. This puts Smith’s desire to run her business according to her beliefs in direct conflict with Colorado’s law. 

Though the results of this case certainly impact religious liberty, the primary issue of this case is one of free speech. The central question before the court is “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

What arguments were made?

Kristen Waggoner, CEO, president, and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, argued on Smith and 303 Creative’s behalf. Her central argument was that the enforcement of Colorado’s Anti-Distcrimination Act against Smith violates her first amendment free speech rights by forcing her to create speech inconsistent with her religious beliefs. The argument went to great lengths to demonstrate that Smith’s decisions in what projects she will take on are not based on who is requesting her services but rather what message the work will convey.

As Supreme Court analyst Amy Howe explains, “This means . . . that she would ‘happily’ design graphics for an LGBTQ customer who runs an animal shelter. But she will not take on commissions that would be inconsistent with her Christian beliefs—including, she says, by promoting same-sex marriage—because a custom wedding website would ‘express approval of the couple’s marriage.’”

Furthering this idea that the message rather than the individual is central to the decision, in the argument, Waggoner concluded that Smith would not create a website for a hypothetical heterosexual couple who wanted to share their love story and include details of their relationship beginning with an affair and progressing after divorces because she believes that divorce and extramarital sex are wrong.

Both the Colorado solicitor general and the U.S. deputy attorney general argued that the Colorado law “merely regulates sales, rather than the products or services being sold, and therefore does not require or bar any speech.” The state argued that Smith is not being forced to create anything, but that whatever she decides to create must be available to be purchased by anyone. The arguments also focused on how a potential ruling could impact similarly suited circumstances where the individual does not want to serve those entering into an interracial marriage or a marriage between people with disabilities. 

Why does this case matter?

This case has significant implications for the free speech of all people. If the court were to rule against Smith, it would establish a precedent that cuts to the core of our nation’s fabric. The First Amendment protects free speech—even when that speech is unpopular. 

Beyond that, for us, as Christians, our beliefs on matters of marriage and gender are core to our convictions, pointing to God’s design and the living picture of Christ and his Church. Throughout the argument, it was apparent that the justices were operating from vastly different worldviews and perspectives, with several justices seemingly unaware of the centrality of this belief to the Christian faith.

As ERLC President Brent Leatherwood said today:

Christians have, for 2,000 years, said that marriage is a picture of the gospel. It was clear from today’s oral arguments that several justices have never encountered this notion on a prior occasion. This is unfortunate as it is central to understanding why a Christian creative professional would object to being compelled by the state to say something contrary to this deeply held belief. That is why Justice Gorsuch was exactly right when he seemed to suggest this case is not about who is being served, ‘but about what’ the state of Colorado is forcing upon the speech creator. Today’s proceedings reveal why the Court should rule in favor of 303 Creative because to do otherwise would be tantamount to giving the government keys to a paver to roll right over private business-owning Christians who disagree with whatever the prevailing cultural notions about marriage and family happen to be fashionable at a given moment.

It is essential that people of faith not only have the ability to believe these fundamental truths but also to live them out in the public square. No one should be forced to sacrifice their most deeply held beliefs to participate in the marketplace and contribute to our society. The ERLC is urging the court to rule in favor of 303 Creative and will be preparing Christians and churches to respond to this important decision next year.

By / Oct 11

We live in an age experiencing the disastrous effects of the sexual revolution. Confusion over basic concepts such as man, woman, and marriage are but the latest divergence between a culture committed to radical individual autonomy and a church committed to Scripture’s teaching. Local congregations daily face questions of gender dysphoria, same-sex unions, and on basic concepts of what it means to be a man or woman. The ERLC seeks to come alongside and assist pastors and ministry leaders to answer those questions in light of Scripture’s clear teachings with resources like these and future projects.

Below, we have given a basic theological framework from God’s Word for approaching questions of gender and biological sex. Additionally, there are some practical guidelines for churches to consider in updating their bylaws to ensure that they are afforded as much protection as possible under the law. It is our hope that at both the theological and practical level this resource will be helpful to you as you serve your congregation. 

A theological framework of sex and gender

God created you. At its most basic level, the fact that we are created by God means that we are limited by the design that God has given us (Gen. 1). Recognizing that we are created by God means accepting that we do not have absolute control over our bodies and how they are to be used (Is. 29:16). They are to be used in accordance with God’s design and purpose. When we attempt to usurp God’s design, we repeat the sin of Adam and Eve who desired to be more than just “like God” but rather to become God (Gen. 3:5). Remembering that we are created and therefore finite grounds our theology of the body and gender (1 Pet. 1:24). 

God created you with a body. Contrary to popular understanding, our bodies are inseparable from who we are. We are not souls trapped in a body (1 Cor. 6:12-20). The Christian church has long understood and upheld the worth of the body, looking at both the creation account of Genesis where God declares the world good and the Incarnation of Christ where a perfect and holy God took on flesh and blood (John 1). As Christians, we must not fall for the lie of culture that our bodies are to be changed to meet our self-perception (2 Cor. 10:5).

God created humans male and female. In the opening pages of Genesis, the author tells us that humanity was created in God’s image and created male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). We often focus on the former, but the latter declaration is just as important. The author’s description is an acknowledgement of distinction and difference between the two. Men are not women, and women are not men. Yet, we should not overplay these differences in an unbiblical way because, as the next chapter reminds us, there is nothing more like man than woman (Gen. 2). Still, those differences are there and part of God’s design. Neither is more important or carries more of the image of God, and both are necessary to fulfill the command given to steward creation and multiply. As Christians, we recognize the ways that God has designed both men and women as distinct, yet equal expressions of humanity. 

God created male and female to complement one another. The opening pages of Scripture remind us that we are made in God’s image, and that men and women are to complement one another (Gen. 1:26-27). At its most basic level, this complementarity is revealed in biology: both man and woman are needed for sexual reproduction. It also reveals itself in a range of social and relational aspects (Eph. 5:21-33). At its core, complementarity glorifies God and is a reminder that we are created, finite beings who are unable to live in existence without others (Gen. 2:18). Though our current context seeks to blur the distinctions between men and women to the point that they are interchangeable, Christians recognize that each gender has something that is distinct and special. Neither can exist without the other (1 Cor. 11:11-12). 

The Fall affects how we perceive our bodies. The effects of sin have broken every part of creation. This includes our own self-perception and understanding (1 Pet. 1:14). The presence of disorders such as gender dysphoria (when a person’s perception of a mismatch between their gender and their body causes distress) is one example of the way sin has warped our understanding. Christians must recognize that sin is able to powerfully deceive, even to the point of thinking that bodily mutilation is the way toward happiness (Eph. 4:22). In contrast, Christians must offer a word of hope and a reminder that our bodies are good gifts given to us by God, not obstacles to be overcome. 

God meets those broken by the sexual revolution with compassion and grace. We are repeatedly reminded that God has compassion for those who have been broken by sin. The pages of Scripture are filled with the story of a God who cares for those who have been deceived, abused, and mistreated by society and culture (Jonn 4; John 11). Christians must recognize that the sexual revolution has been built upon empty promises. Many people have been (and will be) left hurt, confused, and at the end of their rope, looking for hope and answers: those who were deceived to think that casual sex was meaningless, our bodies could be changed as we saw fit, and that their gender was unimportant to who they were. The response of the church is to be the same as the response of Christ: “a bruised reed he will not break” (Matt. 12:20). We offer the same grace and compassion given to us and seek to restore those who have been broken by the lies of sin. 

COMING SOON: Downloadable, printable version of “A Theological Framework of Sex and Gender” for use in your church or ministry.

The importance of bylaws 

The ERLC worked with Alliance Defending Freedom to create a resource guide for churches to update their bylaws in light of challenges related to sexual orientation and gender identity lawsuits. Below are the five areas where churches can provide clear frameworks outlining their faith and religious convictions to protect themselves so that they can continue in ministry that is faithful to God’s Word and brings about gospel transformation. You can read the entire guide here.

Statement of Faith (p.5): The Statement of Faith should serve as an encapsulation of the foundational theology of the church or organization. In addition to the usual topic of salvation, doctrine of sin, or church polity, a statement of faith should include the position of the church related to matters of gender, sexuality, and marriage. Because these issues now regularly confront churches, it is imperative that churches and religious organizations clearly put forth their belief in marriage’s foundational role in society, that it is rightly restricted only to one man and one woman, and that gender identity flows from and is inextricably connected to biological sex. 

Religious Employment Criteria (p. 11): Churches and religious organizations should strongly consider creating a religious employment requirement for all employees so as to avail themselves of the full weight of First Amendment jurisprudence. Under the “ministerial exception” churches and religious institutions are able to take religious belief into consideration when hiring and firing without penalty under non-discrimination laws. By clearly defining roles according to their contribution to the organization’s religious mission, and having employees sign the statement of faith, they can protect themselves from legal challenges.  

Facility Use Policy (p. 14): A fear of many churches is that they may be required to grant use of their facilities to couples who may wish to use them for a wedding ceremony the church would not sanction or other events. In general, churches are free to grant access to their facilities as they wish because they are private property. However, they can further protect themselves by creating a clearly defined facility use policy that identifies the religious nature of the building and restricts use of the facility to those who act in accordance to your beliefs. 

Formal Membership Policy (p. 16): While many churches have an informal process of affirming or recognizing church membership, their legal protections are increased by formalizing the process. In ideal circumstances, their written process should cover the procedures for becoming a member, procedures for church discipline, and procedures for disfellowshipping or excommunicating a member. Each of these helps to provide a legal framework protecting the church and providing clarity to members of the expectations of membership and the processes that can be expected in times of discipline. This can be especially helpful if a member objects to the church’s implementation of disciplinary measures. 

Marriage Policy (p.18): In addition to the statement of faith which clearly outlines the church’s theology of marriage, churches should create a marriage policy which outlines the parameters under which pastors, ministers, or staff will solemnize a marriage. This marriage policy may include not only a statement on belief of marriage as between a biological man and woman, but also another statement on the use of the facility for marriage ceremonies. Additionally, churches may consider adding a provision that only members will be able to use the facilities to provide a further layer of protection if the church has a requirement that members affirm the church’s statement of faith. 

COMING SOON: Downloadable, printable version of “The Importance of Bylaws” for use in your church or ministry.

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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.

Conclusion

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 / Aug 16

Last week, in the case of Starkey v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a federal court in Indiana ruled in favor of the Indianapolis Archdiocese, upholding its right to “provide students and families with an authentic Catholic education.” Along with other recent positive rulings, this latest decision is yet another win reaffirming the rights of individuals and institutions seeking to exercise fidelity to their religious beliefs without government infringing on their constitutional rights. This decision is good news for religious schools, the faculty, and families who send their children to those schools.

What was the case about?

In August 2018, Lynn Starkey, a former co-director of guidance at Roncalli High School, informed school leadership that “she was in, and intended to remain in, a same-sex marriage in violation of her contract and of Catholic teaching.” Upon learning of Starkey’s same-sex marriage, Roncalli administration “declined to renew her employment contract on the grounds that her marriage violated Catholic teachings.” Alleging discrimination, along with a list of other infractions, Starkey then sued Roncalli and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

What led to the favorable ruling?

Ultimately, the court made its decision based on an important legal doctrine –– one favorable to the Archidiocese. Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated that it’s a matter of “common sense: religious groups have a right to hire people who agree with their religious beliefs and practices.” The long-standing consensus of the Supreme Court (and lower courts) has been and, with this ruling, clearly remains that “the Constitution forbids secular courts from interfering in important personnel decisions of churches and religious schools.

As outlined in a case detail produced by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “As Co-Director of Guidance at Roncalli High School, Lynn Starkey was responsible for communicating the Catholic faith to students and families, and advising students both practically and spiritually as they discerned their vocational path at and after Roncalli,” a fact that necessarily invoked the principle of the ministerial exception.

The ministerial exception was one of the most significant factors at play in this case for several reasons: Roncalli High School is a private religious school; Starkey had a consequential role in advising students according to Catholic orthodoxy; and “Every administrator, teacher, and guidance counselor at Roncalli High School signs an agreement to uphold the teaching of the Catholic Church in both their professional and private lives.”

What is the ministerial exception?

The ministerial exception is a constitutional protection that bars the government from applying employment discrimination laws to religious organizations. To allow the government to control the hiring practices of religious organizations would infringe on the Free Exercise rights of religious organizations to operate independent of government involvement. Though the ministerial exception is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, it is grounded in both religious clauses of the First Amendment.

In its June 2020 decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morissey Beru (in which the ERLC filed an amicus brief cited in the court’s ruling), the Supreme Court held that there is no rigid formula to determine if the ministerial exception applies. Rather, the court looks at a variety of factors surrounding the individual’s employment including, but not limited to: official title, religious training, religious credentials, a source of religious instruction, and whether the duties played a role in teaching the religious organization’s message and conveying its mission.

In contrast to the recent ruling in DeWeese-Boyd v. Gordon College, in which it was decided that the ministerial exception did not apply, the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana concluded, “Starkey qualified as a minister, and that the ministerial exception bars all of Starkey’s claims.”

What’s next?

The ministerial exception has been central to a slate of recent court decisions, a precedent, at this point, that shows no signs of abating. In fact, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty currently has pending a second, similar case defending Roncalli High School, the same Catholic high school involved in the lawsuit described above. 

The ERLC applauds the Indiana court’s decision to reaffirm the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ constitutional rights and its prerogative to operate according to its deeply held religious beliefs, and the bearing that has on all other religious persons and institutions. Based on the number of recent favorable decisions, we are encouraged by the overwhelming number of rulings that continue to side with the cause of religious liberty.

As always, the ERLC remains committed to promoting and defending the religious liberty and conscience rights of all people and religious organizations.

By / Jun 11

A recent Gallup poll finds that support for same-sex marriage has reached an all-time high. Currently, 70% of Americans say marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages. The shift is primarily due to support by the younger generations: 84% of young adults, 72% of middle-aged adults, and 60% of older adults say they favor same-sex marriage. 

A majority of Republicans (55%) and more than two-thirds of Democrats (83%) support the legal change. Surprisingly, despite same-sex marriage being one of the most radically progressive political changes in human history, almost half of self-identified conservatives (48%) now endorse this redefinition of marriage.

The poll doesn’t list the breakdown by religion, but it’s clear that many Christians now believe they too should support same-sex marriage. Here are four reasons why we should uphold a traditional understanding of marriage. 

1. Marriage matters to God

“Have you not read that He Who made them in the first place made them man and woman?” said Jesus, “It says, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will live with his wife. The two will become one.’ So they are no longer two but one. Let no man divide what God has put together” (Matt. 19:4-6). 

Marriage was invented by God, not by man. We have neither the authority nor the ability to change what marriage is. The most that an individual or a government can do is misapply the term to relationships that are not actually marriages. Marriage requires the specific form of a union of man and woman (Gen. 2:24). Applying the term to same-sex unions, therefore, alters the very concept of what a marriage is for and what functions it takes.

Many people, including many Christians, think that objecting to same-sex marriage is imposing our moral beliefs on non-believers. In fact, the opposite is the case. It was advocates of same-sex marriage who imposed their view of sexuality on others by using the power of the state to enforce a criteria for marriage that is not rooted in the nature of marriage. In this way, they are similar to those who supported laws against interracial marriage. “Anti-miscegenation laws. . . were attempts to eradicate the legal status of real marriages by injecting a condition—sameness of race—that had no precedent in common law,” says philosopher Francis Beckwith. “For in the common law, a necessary condition for a legitimate marriage was male-female complementarity, a condition on which race has no bearing.” 

Christians should oppose any attempt to add conditions to marriage that change God’s standards.

2. Reality matters to God

When we say that a man can be married to a man or that a woman can be married to a woman, we are twisting the word “married” to mean what it cannot mean. If we use words in this way, we are making a claim about reality that we know is not true — and cannot be made true. In other words, we are endorsing a lie.

The Bible makes it clear that God detest lying or speaking untruths (Prov. 12:12). As Leviticus 19:11 says, “‘Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” For us to use language that we know is deceitful and untrue about an institution created by God is harmful to our neighbors. Words matter to God, so they must matter to us.

3. Scripture matters to God 

As Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). From this and other passages, we derive the biblical doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, that Scripture is sufficient in that it is the only inspired, inerrant, and therefore final authority for Christians for faith and godliness, with all other authorities being subservient to Scripture.

The Baptist theologian Matthew Barrett says that sufficiency has real and serious implications for the church today. “First, although Christians claim they believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, they often live like they don’t, prizing their experience instead of Scripture’s instruction,” adds Barrett. “In faith and practice, too many Christians nod at what the Bible says, but politely set it aside to live their life how they think or feel is best.” 

Unfortunately, this is all too common when it comes to political and policy views. For many Christians in America, their secular political views — especially a left-libertarian view of sexuality and individual “rights” — informs their policy positions more than does the Bible. But Scripture matters to God and so it should matter to us.

4. People matter to God

As Christians, we are called to love our gay and lesbian neighbors (John 14:34), which is why we must not and cannot support same-sex marriage. 

Christians believe that marriage is a lifelong institution designed by God for our good and the good of our society. We also believe that homosexual sexual activity is sinful. How then could we support two people entering into a lifelong commitment that encourages them to engage in sin (1 Cor. 6:9)?

For a Chrisitan to endorse same-sex marriage is the opposite of loving — it is truly hateful. You do not love your neighbor by encouraging them to engage in actions that invoke God’s wrath and oppose God’s good design for humanity (Psa. 5:4–5; Rom. 1:18). You cannot love your neighbor and encourage them to engage in activity that will lead them to hell.

While we may be required to accept the presence of ungodly behavior in our society, the moment we begin to endorse it we too become suppressors of the truth. We cannot love our neighbor and want to see them excluded from the kingdom of Christ (1 Cor. 6:9).

By / Aug 18

Late last week a federal court issued an order to halt “the enforcement of a Louisville law against a wedding photographer and blogger as her artistic freedom lawsuit advances in court.” U.S. District Judge Justin Walker’s ruling granted injunctive relief to Chelsey Nelson, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, who lives and works in Louisville. The ruling temporarily suspends the enforcement of a local Jefferson County Metro Government ordinance that would have compelled Nelson to use her creative gifts in ways that run contrary to her religious beliefs under the threat of significant civil penalties.

Nelson is a photographer and creative professional. She uses those skills to operate a business in Louisville photographing weddings. Nelson is also a Christian who holds to historic Christian beliefs about marriage and human sexuality. And though she is willing to serve any client, because of her religious convictions she is only able to use her creative gifts to “participate in and celebrate weddings” that are consistent with her beliefs. 

Louisville’s public accommodation ordinance prohibits Nelson from declining to photograph weddings for same-sex couples. Not only that, but the “Fairness Ordinance” also prohibits Nelson from publishing on her “website the reasons she photographs and edits photos of only male-female weddings.” The ordinance is clearly intended to prevent discrimination, but it actually has the effect of forcing people like Nelson out of the marketplace. But because of Walker’s ruling, the enforcement of these measures has been blocked until the case is resolved.

Responding to Walker’s ruling, ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said, “The court was right to halt enforcement of Louisville’s law against Chelsey while her case moves forward. She serves everyone. She simply cannot endorse or participate in ceremonies she objects to, and the city has no right to eliminate the editorial control she has over her own photographs and blogs.”

No American citizen deserves to be punished by the government for their religious beliefs. Nor should we need to fear that holding convictions out of step with public opinion could cost us our livelihoods.

It is worth noting that in issuing the injunction, Walker indicated that Nelson is likely to win her case on the merits. “Her photography is art,” and, “art is speech,” the judge wrote. Because of the First Amendment, the government has no authority to compel speech that violates one’s religious or political principles. In affirmation of these rights, Walker ruled, “The Constitution does not require a choice between gay rights and freedom of speech. It demands both.” Rather than declaring the public square off limits to certain people, Walker stated, “America is wide enough for those who applaud same-sex marriage and those who refuse to.” 

This is another important victory for religious freedom. As more state and local governments implement expanded non-discrimination measures, it is critical that these efforts not erode the constitutional freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Religious citizens like Chelsey Nelson are not seeking a license to discriminate. Rather, they are merely seeking the same protection for their own civil liberties—the right to live, work, and worship in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs.

Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy, commended Walker’s ruling, saying the decision “affirms that our consciences matter, and we are encouraged to see the courts respect the conscience rights of creative professionals in Kentucky.” Wussow also pointed out that “When the government respects these fundamental rights, it is good not just for people of faith but for all Americans.” And that is exactly right. No American citizen deserves to be punished by the government for their religious beliefs. Nor should we need to fear that holding convictions out of step with public opinion could cost us our livelihoods.

All Americans should stand against discrimination. But we should also stand in support of the liberty of all Americans to live and worship according to the dictates of their consciences. And at least for now, Kentucky is free to do both.

By / Aug 12

This week RNS reported that the organization Young Life is facing pressure to overturn its policies on sexual conduct. For those unfamiliar with Young Life’s ministry, the organization exists to reach students in middle school, high school, and college. It also does specific outreach to teen moms, those with special needs, and young adults in military families And according to their website, Young Life is presently doing ministry in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries. 

Christians and sexuality

As a Christian ministry, Young Life has always embraced the tradition of biblical sexual ethics to which the church has held for nearly two millennia. But recently, the organization’s views and policies related to sexuality have come under scrutiny for excluding individuals identifying as LGBT. Though the policy is not publicly available, a copy obtained by RNS confirms that Young Life’s sexual conduct policy, which applies to staff members, “explicitly prohibits any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.”

At the center of this controversy is the question of whether those who reject Young Life’s positions on sexuality should be eligible for employment with the organization. The RNS story opens by highlighting two individuals who recently worked for Young Life but had their employment terminated for conduct that violates the organization’s sexual conduct policy. In this case, both individuals are homosexual. After sharing their stories on social media about the way their service with Young Life ended, one of them used the hashtag #DoBetterYoungLife.

Since then, the #DoBetterYoungLife hashtag has gained considerable traction online. In addition to spawning multiple social media accounts and prompting hundreds of individuals to share stories of exclusion and pain related to their sexual identity or orientation, perhaps the most significant result of this movement has been a petition launched on Change.org that has garnered nearly 7,000 signatures calling for Young Life to repeal its sexual conduct policy and make other changes.

A complicated reality

Anyone taking the time to investigate can recognize that this is a complicated and multifaceted situation. The men and women speaking out on social media—many of whom are very young—are sharing stories of deep pain and hurt they’ve experienced as a result of being excluded or marginalized in various ways. These stories are moving and emotional and sad. Not only that, but many are marked by obvious sincerity.

At the same time, there is no real question about what Young Life should do, at least in terms of the substance of its policy. Young Life’s views on sexuality are, after all, not really Young Life’s views on sexuality. For Christians, the Scriptures set forth a clear and intelligible pattern, not only of what it means to be male and female, but of the nature of sexual intimacy and relationships as well. And these things are not ancillary to the Christian life, but central to what it means to faithfully follow Christ. For Young Life, and for any Christian organization, obedience to Scripture and fidelity to the Christian tradition requires that they maintain their prohibition on any kind of sexual activity beyond the bounds of heterosexual marriage.

For Christians, the Scriptures set forth a clear and intelligible pattern, not only of what it means to be male and female, but of the nature of sexual intimacy and relationships as well.

It has barely been five years since the Supreme Court handed down the Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. But in intervening years, society’s attitudes toward homosexuality and LGBT rights have continued to shift rapidly. So much so, that it seems we’ve reached the tipping point where, in many cases, failing to affirm same-sex marriage and expanded protections for LGBT individuals is now likely to bring forth rejection and scorn and potentially even more significant consequences. And this is the reality Young Life is facing.

The RNS article cited a statement from Young Life’s president, Newt Crenshaw, responding to the situation which indicated the organization would be taking steps to review the stories of current and former Young Life members who had “experienced pain in our family based on their race, gender, sexual orientation or other factors.” Speaking as an outsider, I think this is obviously a commendable step for Young Life. Even when policies are substantially correct (as Young Life’s policy on sexual conduct assuredly is), there is still ample opportunity to address any means by which the policy may have been poorly implemented and to plan to better address such matters going forward.

Compassion and conviction

Though I’ve never personally been involved in Young Life, I know a number of people whose lives and faith were shaped in a profound and lasting way through the organization’s ministry. Moreover, it is clear that those who have spoken out about the hurt and pain they’ve experienced are often doing so as former insiders—those who’ve experienced the rich, loving community that Young Life creates for the thousands of students they minister to each year. That kind of love and community motivated by the gospel is the focal point of Young Life’s ministry; it is critical that they find a way to continue to model that for future generations without surrendering their core beliefs.

Young Life is not alone among Christian organizations thinking through ways they might better respond and minister to those whose sexual identity or orientation run contrary to the sexual ethics of Scripture. As Christian leaders seek to navigate these challenges, they should consider how they might imitate Jesus who was known for the tremendous compassion he showed toward those who were hurting or on the margins. Jesus was never guilty of compromise, nor was he ever bereft of compassion.

The church should be known as a community that loves and welcomes people, regardless of what kind of past, or baggage, or identity they might have. And loving and welcoming people includes what happens in our church buildings as well as the various kinds of ministries we create. Christians don’t have to back away from what the Bible says in order to love people as people and to point them to the hope, healing, and restoration that is available to them in Jesus. 

All of us should pray for Young Life’s leadership as they seek to address these matters in the days ahead and make whatever corrections are appropriate. And each of us can strive to care for those who are hurting even as we hold fast the things the church has always believed.