By / Sep 8

Hello, this is Russell Moore, and this is Questions and Ethics, and we are back after a little hiatus that we’ve had here in the summer to come back to take your questions and to talk about the things that are on your mind from a gospel perspective.

And this week, I have a question that is coming from a mom, a Christian mom, and she writes about a situation with her daughter. And this mom is someone—she and her husband came to faith in Christ after their child rearing years, and she is a relatively new Christian, and her daughter is not a Christian, and she has been trying to share the gospel with her daughter and see her daughter come to faith in Christ. Her daughter is a lesbian, and she writes and says, “What do I do about the wedding that is coming up?” She said that her daughter is going to be marrying her lesbian partner, and she knows that she is going to get an invitation to the wedding. And so this mom says, “What do I do?” because on the one hand she doesn’t want to close off her relationship with her daughter. On the other hand, she doesn’t want to communicate to her daughter that she approves of this situation in this wedding, in what the state is calling marriage, and so what does she do?

What I would like to say to that mom is I understand something of the tension that she is feeling, and I think something of the tension there represents good instincts because she has convictions—she understands what the Bible teaches about sexuality, about sexual ethics, about what marriage is, that marriage is not simply the expression of feeling between two people, but marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Jesus says it has been so from the beginning. She also understands that our sexual lives are to be ordered by the lordship of Christ and that the lordship of Christ revealed in scripture says that sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage as defined as that covenantal union between a man and a woman reflecting the union of Christ and his church. So she has got the conviction, and it seems to me from the way she is wording this that she also has love for her daughter, and she has a sense of evangelistic zeal to see her daughter won to faith in Christ. I think that both of those two things ought to be commended and both of those two things ought to be encouraged.

When it comes to the question of the wedding, I think there are a couple of reasons why this becomes a difficult question for people. One of them is the obvious issue—you have love for your daughter. You want to be there for her. You don’t want to give her the impression that you are cutting her off or that you are disowning her. But the other issue is that we have had kind of an Americanization, an individualization of weddings and of marriages for a long time where we start to see a wedding as being simply about the two people involved. And so a wedding becomes really the equivalent of a self-expression that involves the couple but doesn’t involve everybody else. That’s the reason why couples often want to write their own vows and they want to sometimes turn weddings—and I’m talking here about even weddings among people who are biblically qualified to be married—they want to turn those weddings into vehicles of self-expression.

I remember a controversy with a couple that wanted to have “Mama He’s Crazy,” the old country song, played as she was coming down the aisle because that was a song that was meaningful to her. I mean all of those things kind of have flown into the wedding industry and then from that into the mentality of what a wedding is and what a marriage is in American life and in American culture. So it’s easy to think that my being at a wedding isn’t really involving me except maybe at the level of signal. But I think a biblical understanding of marriage though and a Christian understanding of a wedding is much much more than that. What’s happening in a wedding is not simply that the man and the wife are making vows to one another. It’s that they are making vows to one another for which they are held accountable. And to whom are they held accountable? They are held accountable to the gathering of witnesses around them that confirm these vows. So these vows are to be taken seriously by the state, and these vows are to be taken seriously by the community, and these vows are to be taken seriously, in the case of Christians, by the church. And so when we lose that then I think we lose our understanding of what going to a wedding actually is.

I would not go to a same-sex wedding, and it’s not because I would want to show some sort of hostility toward unbelieving friends who are gay or lesbian. It’s because being involved in a wedding, participating in the wedding, is participating. You are there as a witness to these vows, and what you are giving implicitly is the signal that you plan to help hold this couple accountable to those vows, both in terms of encouraging them to make their marriage work—well, you can’t do that as an orthodox Christian when it comes to a same-sex union—and in terms of holding them accountable from breaking those vows—you can’t do that as an orthodox Christian when it comes to a same-sex couple because as an orthodox Christian we believe that this union is itself wrong in the sight of God. He does not approve of this. He does not design this, and what you are seeking to do with your daughter is to call her to repentance, foundationally. So, I would not go to the same-sex wedding.

Now, having said that, I also think it is really important that you as a mom understand and know that you should not, in this, communicate some sort of hostility or some sort of disowning of your daughter. And I think that’s an easy temptation that many people have, and some of that has to do with the fact that we incorrectly sometimes see our children as expressions of ourselves. And so sometimes Christian parents, when they have children who don’t share their faith commitments, or children who are living lives that are far from the way that God has revealed in scripture, sometimes I think we have a temptation to feel almost as though this is a reflection on us. And so there becomes a type of self-protection in that. And sometimes that self-protection can express itself in a kind of anger or hostility toward that child that we wouldn’t in any other situation.

So what I would say is be involved in your daughter’s life, and love your daughter. I mean, I tell people all the time about one of the saddest conversations I think I’ve ever had in my life was with a man who was in a very similar situation to the one that you are in, and he came to see me, and he was worried that he was going to hell because he read in scripture where Jesus said, “Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my father who is in heaven.” And this man said that he was denying Jesus all the time. And I asked him how. And it turns out he had a lesbian daughter. She knew where he stood on issues of sexual ethics, but he said I have a good relationship with my daughter. I talk to her every week. He said that his daughter and her lesbian partner had had a baby by artificial insemination and that he is involved in his grandson’s life. He goes out to where his grandson is and takes him to ballgames and Skypes with him just about every night. And he felt as though that was a denying of the Lord Jesus as though every conversation that he needed to have with his daughter had to be from start to finish a debate over Romans 1. Well, that is not the way that we treat our unbelieving children in any other situation. If you have a child who is simply an atheist, you are going to be involved in that child’s life and every conversation is not going to be an argument over apologetics. This man was a hero! He was keeping the door open to his daughter, and he was involved—and really in this case the only male influence in his grandson’s life. He was a hero of the faith. But he felt as though he was going to hell because he was denying Christ.

Don’t do that. The story that Jesus tells us of the prodigal son is a story of a son who wanders off into a far country, and then what happens? The son comes to his senses, the scripture says, when there’s a time of crisis. A famine comes through the land. He is out of money. He is at the end of his rope, and then he realizes I need something more than this. I need to go home. And he has a home to go home to. Make sure that you keep that relationship open.

Now, there may be a situation where you can’t. It may be that your daughter says to you, if you don’t come and celebrate this wedding with me, then you are out of my life. Okay, that may happen. But I think the words of scripture here, “So far as it is possible with you, live peaceably with all people,” applies here. Try to keep the relationship open while at the same time saying to your daughter I just can’t sacrifice my conscience by participating in this wedding.

Now, having said that, there are going to be all sorts of situations that Christians are going to face right now as it applies to this issue that is relatively new in American life of same-sex marriage that are not going to be cut and dried. I mean, biblical conviction does not mean that we separate ourselves from sinners. It means that we separate ourselves from sin. And that is why I say, for me, I think biblically to go to a same-sex wedding would be participation in that and it would be sin. Separate yourself from sin, but don’t separate yourself from sinners. And there are going to be all sorts of—sort of a continuum of gradations here of situations. So, everything from a wedding, which I think is really clear, all the way down to should you go over to your daughter’s house? Yes! I think so. Should you go to a birthday party? Yes! I think so. Are there going to be some other things that are even less clear than that? You know, there are situations where maybe a same-sex couple, they come back to the neighborhood after being married somewhere and someone has a housewarming reception for them. Well, in that situation what you have to weigh is, is my presence there going to be confusing to the person that I am trying to lead to Christ? Is it going to signal somehow that I have changed my mind, I am not calling that person to repentance? Or is it going to be instead a signal that I disagree with you, but I love you and I want to talk with you? Well, sometimes those situations, you have to make those in light of a biblically informed conscience and on the basis of what’s going to happen in the moment.

What I would say to you is don’t allow your Christian witness to be bullied. And I mean bullied in either direction. There are going to be some people who say to you if you love your daughter then you need to put your biblical convictions in a blind trust—Go to the wedding, support the wedding, so forth. There are going to be other people though who are going to criticize you if you are not willing to cut off your daughter. So what? Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house, and if you think about what is happening in the story of Zacchaeus, you have someone who is distant from the people of God. He is someone who is very morally implicated—someone who is using his position to defraud people financially. He is collaborating with a Roman government that’s doing all sorts of awful things to the people of God. Zacchaeus is hiding up in the trees, and Jesus calls him out by name, and not only calls him out by name, but says I am going to your house today. And so Jesus goes and eats with Zacchaeus and with the tax collectors that are there. And immediately what is the criticism that Jesus receives? “He eats with tax collectors and sinners.” People assumed that Jesus was muddying his witness because he was involved in eating and being in the presence of these people who were unbelievers, who were not just unbelievers but involved in open sin. Jesus takes that criticism. He also takes the implicit criticism coming from those who are involved in the tax collecting business that he is calling them to repentance. Jesus does both. He loves, he engages, and he calls to repentance at the same time.

Now, that is never easy because what that is going to mean is if you are really loving people and you are really involved in their lives and if you are really not worried about whether or not your presence in their lives is going to make you somehow suspect to people, that is going to put you into one level of criticism. And if while you are doing that, you are consistently holding to the truth of scripture and you are consistently saying come to Christ through repentance and faith, surrender yourself to the lordship of Christ, and that means surrendering to what the scripture teaches about even sexuality, and about the definition of marriage, then you are going to take criticism from the other side as well.

And what I would say to you is as long as that criticism is in stereo and as long as your conscience is being informed by the scriptures, then the Spirit will guide you through there. And the other thing I would say is when it comes to all the number of situations beyond the wedding, sort of life events and those sorts of things, when you get to those questions of well, am I erring here on the side of something that is confusing where it looks like I’m celebrating something that is sin or do you think well, am I erring here on the side of Pharisaism where I am kind of cutting myself off from people who are sinners who aren’t, I Corinthians 5, accountable to the people of God—Paul says who do I judge? Not those on the outside, but those on the inside—we need to be understanding that there are going to be times when Christians come to different convictions about those things.

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a friend of mine, and I had a conversation at the meeting of our denomination’s national meeting this year, and one of the things he said was very insightful when he was talking about some of the pastoral issues that he is dealing with in a major metropolitan area on these questions, and he said we need to understand that many of the situations that we are facing right now, pastorally, are very new. Now, they are not new in the sense that sin is new. There is no sin that is new, and there is no aspect of fallenness that is new, but the specific cultural expressions of what we are seeing right now are new to many people, and so we ought to have a little bit of grace in terms of the way that people are trying to figure out how they express biblical conviction and how they maintain an evangelistic outreach that remains involved in people’s lives. And sometimes that is going to be difficult to see and difficult to know.

But what we need to do is to be people who are full of truth and full of grace, and if we choose one or the other, then we are stepping outside of Jesus. Truth is in Jesus. Grace is in Jesus. So, the message that we need to be giving to everybody, including those people that we love the most, people in our families—our children—is Jesus Christ is lord, which means that God’s design is what God is calling you to, and Judgment Day is coming, and the conscience needs to be cleansed. Repent of sin. So we need to be saying all the time to those we love a warning of judgment, a warning that comes to ourselves first of all, and then with that though a constant offer of invitation. There is no sin that is beyond the reach of the blood of Christ, and even if you and I disagree, and disagree very strongly, we can still love each other, and we can still have a relationship with one another. And I can still be here for you when you need me because that’s what a mom does, right?

So, that is what I would encourage you to do. Many of the things I’ve talked about here are not “Thus sayeth the Lord.” Many of them are just, “Thus thinketh Moore.” But I think that’s what we need to do is to think with one another, to pray with one another, and we need the whole community to think through many of these things as they start to come forward because one of the problems that we can have if we don’t do that is because we love our children so much that we can easily simply try to do away with what we know God has revealed in order to keep our relationship with our children. We don’t have the option to do that. Jesus’ lordship demands more than that of us.

And then the other temptation that we can have is to turn ourselves into the sort of people who are mean and angry at sinners so that we give the impression that Jesus Christ came to save the righteous and not sinners. And if we do that then what we are going to be doing is turning over our children, not just our gay and lesbian children, but all of our children over to forces in the world that will do much harm to them and ultimately to us as well.

So be a mom of grace, and be a mom of truth, and I will be praying for you as you navigate this, and above all I will be praying for your daughter. And what I hope is that the end story here is the similar story of the prodigal son with that daughter coming home and being received by a mother in the gospel.

This is Russell Moore and this is Questions and Ethics. I’m wondering what your question is. If you have a question for us about any sort of dilemma that you are facing right now, maybe it’s something you came across in the Bible you are wondering about, or maybe it’s a conversation you are having with a coworker or a family member, or maybe it’s just a moral decision you are facing and you don’t know what to do. Well, give me an email at [email protected] and I’d love to take it up on the next episode of Questions and Ethics.

By / Sep 4

The situation involving Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis presents the most complex case concerning religious liberty since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states with its June Obergefell ruling.

The complexity of this case arises from the fact that Mrs. Davis is a government employee charged with the responsibility of upholding the rule of law. Were this a case involving a private citizen, the facts and argument would look drastically different.

For the facts of the case, we would point you to this ERLC explainer.

There are four issues at stake worth exploring.

The events in Kentucky are the result of judicial overstep on the part of the Supreme Court. Secondly, government inaction by both the Kentucky legislative and executive branches has failed to resolve this conflict where it feasibly could. Third, needless escalation by Judge Bunning on arresting Mrs. Davis for an unspecified amount of time has placed an otherwise law-abiding citizen in prison. Fourth, in this dispute, there are differences concerning religious liberty when it involves government employees and private citizens.

First, by imposing their redefinition of marriage on the rest of the United States instead of allowing states to decide their own marriage policy, the Supreme Court obstructed states from taking an incremental approach that would patiently and legislatively resolve the balance between same-sex marriage and religious liberty. Had states had the opportunity to craft their own marriage policy, legislatures could have made the necessary accommodations needed to protect both religious liberty and the rule of law for all its citizens—whether government employees or private citizens. Sadly, that is not the case, and states are now left reeling in the conflict thrown at them by the Supreme Court.

Second, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, whose veto of a 2013 Religious Freedom Restoration Act was overturned by the Kentucky legislature, has stood idly by and offered no relief, despite pleas from thousands of Kentuckians who’ve asked him to provide leadership and seek legislative compromise in this conflict. This inaction on the part of the governor represents gross indifference to his duties as governor. Governor Beshear could, and indeed, should, immediately convene a specially called legislative session to resolve this issue that provides accommodations for objecting clerks with the assurance that all legal licenses are lawfully issued.

Third, the judicial ruling against Mrs. Davis needlessly escalated the events in Kentucky by meting out an unnecessarily harsh penalty—incarceration—with failure to consider similar past measures undertaken by those in support of same-sex marriage. As many others have noted, those who are now hailing the rule of law as a way of cudgeling Mrs. Davis are the same voices who once undermined it in the name of advancing same-sex marriage. When Attorney General Jack Conway (now the Democratic candidate for governor) refused to defend Kentucky’s marriage law, no negative recourse was handed out even though Conway got to play pick-and-choose with the laws he believed were worth defending. Furthermore, when a same-sex couple in Kentucky exercised civil disobedience at being turned down for a same-sex marriage license in 2013, they were arrested, fined one cent, and quickly set free. With the length of her incarceration unknown, is Mrs. Davis receiving equal treatment?

Fourth, we must recognize the crucial difference between the religious liberty claims of private citizens and government officials. Let us be clear: Government employees are entitled to religious liberty, but religious liberty is never an absolute claim, especially when it comes to discharging duties that the office in question requires. While government employees don’t lose their constitutional protection simply because they work for the government, an individual whose office requires them to uphold or execute the law is a separate matter than the private citizen whose conscience is infringed upon as a result of the law. It means the balancing test is different when it comes to government officials because of their roles as agents of the state. Government officials have a responsibility to carry out the law. When an official can no longer execute the laws in question due to an assault on conscience, and after all accommodating measures have been exhausted, he or she could work for change as a private citizen, engaging the democratic process in hopes of changing the questionable law.

We must be very clear about the distinctions here between persons acting as an agent of the state and persons being coerced by the state in their private lives. If the definition becomes so murky that we cannot differentiate between the freedom to exercise one’s religion and the responsibility of agents of the state to carry out the law, religious liberty itself will be imperiled.

The dramatic events and drastic steps in Kentucky are not necessary given the multiple ways that states can protect individual conscience while still upholding the rule of law. North Carolina is an excellent model for balancing rule of law and individual conscience without harming either.

The situation in Kentucky reminds all of us that America is extremely divided on issues that show no signs of weakening. This zero-sum culture war cannot continue if the social fabric of America is to have any chance of unifying around a robust pluralism. What’s next is unknown, but Christians must exercise due diligence when thinking through the complex webs of navigating religious liberty with the Romans 13 obligation to see law and order followed—even laws we consider contrary to the common good and human flourishing. If Mrs. Davis’ plight reminds us of anything, it is that Christians—like all Americans—must utilize every measure available to them in the democratic process to enact laws that are just, moral, and peaceable.

By / Mar 20

The headlines since March 17 have been crystal clear: Presbyterians approve same-sex marriage. By a majority vote of its presbyteries (regional bodies), the Presbyterian Church USA  (PCUSA) ratified an amendment to its constitution sent down last summer by its General Assembly that allows ministers to perform and churches to be used for same-sex weddings. In immediate response, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) affirmed its support for traditional marriage in hopes of avoiding the kind of confusion that often results when people hear the word “Presbyterian.”

Which Presbyterians did what?

The Presbyterian Church USA, based in Louisville, Ky., considers itself the “true” church when it comes to Presbyterians. They see all other Presbyterians as imposters and wannabes. If it sounds arrogant, it is. It is the PCUSA that boasts seminaries in Princeton, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Atlanta (Columbia), Louisville, San Francisco, Austin and Dubuque. Candidates who attend seminaries like Reformed (RTS) are often barred from ordination in the PCUSA until they do at least a year at an “official” seminary.

It is the PCUSA that boasts a multi-billion dollar endowment, the income from which funds much of its social witness agenda at the United Nations, in Washington DC and at the World and National Council of Churches. It is the PCUSA that is often in the news for its left-leading political advocacy. It is the PCUSA that considers the ordination of women an essential, allows for the ordination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, and now allows for same-sex marriages by its pastors and in its churches.

Parsing out the Presbyterians from one another is a little bit like parsing out Baptists. There are no longer “Southern” Presbyterians (although some remember the PCUS) but in addition to the PCUSA there are the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Reformed Presbyterians (RP), Associate Reformed Presbyterians (ARP), Cumberland Presbyterians. The list goes on and on. Each follows a Presbyterian (elder based) form of government, and each claims to follow Reformed theology. But that’s where the dividing lines are drawn.

The vast majority of Presbyterian denominations worldwide use The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as their primary confessional document. The WCF helps define the doctrine of “Reformed” theology.

The PCUSA, however, has a catalogue called The Book of Confessions—eleven different confessional documents that will be supplemented this year by a twelfth, Belhar. With so many confessions it’s hard to know what to believe, which is precisely the point. When the PCUSA adopted a catalogue of confessions, it did away with a mutually agreed upon list of essential tenets of the Reformed faith. So, whatever an individual embraces as essential is essential for them. That is the standard of theology for ordination in the PCUSA.  

“Reformed and always being reformed, according to the Word of God” has morphed into “reformed and always reforming.” Reformed theology as an identifiable corpus of doctrine becomes a self-determined evolution of thought and practice that is subject to every wind of doctrine, people’s trickery and their deceitful scheming.  

Always reforming

Reformation of thought and deed according to the Word of God has yielded to a spirit of reforming the church to conformity with the felt needs and desires of people. A perverted theology of “justice” and “love” literally out-voted the call to holiness, righteousness, submission and obedience to the revealed will of God.

The passage of the amendment also creates a clear conflict between the way marriage is consistently defined throughout the Confessions (“one man and one woman”) and the other part of the denomination’s constitution called The Book of Order (“two people”). The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Gradye Parsons, has noted the tension and said that “the tension will exist until it doesn’t.” People in the PCUSA are just going to have to learn to live with the shades of grey now present in their constitution.

So what?

The decision to repudiate the Word of God will have percussive effects for the PCUSA.

1. The first effect is a further confusion in terms of witness in the world. The vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture. Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost. All she can do now is echo the voices of the world for she has abandoned the clarion call to bear faithful witness to God who has clearly spoken on this matter.

2. The second effect will be the migration of more members and congregations out of the PCUSA into the EPC, ECO, PCA and other faithful expressions of the Body of Christ in the world. Hundreds of churches and millions of members have left the PCUSA in the past 50 years. The denomination experienced a 10 percent decline in the past two years alone. The decision to redefine marriage will not help stem that tide and may accelerate the pace of departures.

3. The third effect will be global. The PCUSA boasts a huge number of relationships with global mission partners. Many of those international denominations will likely sever ties with what they see as an apostate denomination. They will need reassurance from others in the Presbyterian family of denominations that there are faithful Presbyterians in the U.S. who desire continued ministry and partnership with them.

What now?

We mourn, we call for repentance, we work for reform, and we pray for revival.

The length of the battle should not deter us. God will not be mocked, and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God. The Presbyterian Lay Committee will continue to call for repentance and reform: repentance of those who have clearly erred and reform of the PCUSA according to the Word of God.

Those who want to be equipped to stand against the ever-rising tide of cultural accommodation are invited to visit where you will find resources to facilitate faithful Christian witness in an unfaithful time.