Monday, June 29, 2015

Chicken Little, SCOTUS and the Church

A seed fell on Chicken Little’s head.  "The sky is falling," he reasoned.  "I must tell the king."

On his way to warn the king he garnered quite a following.  He convinced Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey to join him on his journey to warn the king.  Along the way they also met Foxy Loxy who pretended to join them only to lure them into his den.  The chicken, the hen, the duck and the turkey were never heard from again.

Chicken Little responded to what he perceived to be a bad situation in a way that only made matters worse, at least for him and his followers.

In a landmark decision the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) re-defined marriage and legalized same-sex unions.  Their decision was not unanimous.  The vote in favor of legalizing same-sex unions was split 5 to 4 with the majority ruling in favor, a division which appears to reflect the diversity of opinions across the country.  Personally, I was disappointed with their decision, but not surprised by it.

In moments like this I turn to the Bible for guidance, but first I think the story of Chicken Little has something to teach us.  However much we, the church, may not like what has happened, we must not behave in a way that makes things worse.

The Supreme Court decision does not uphold the biblical view of marriage.  That's regrettable, but the Supreme Court determines the law of the land, not the doctrines of the church.  For that we turn to the Bible.  I believe the Bible’s teaching is clear.  Marriage is only between a man and a woman.  Other unions may be legal now according to the Court, but they are not marriage according to the Bible.  Whatever the Court may say, the Bible is clear and the two thousand year teaching of the church is consistent.

Some conservative Christians will try to take legal steps to get the Court to reverse its decision and I wish them well, but if history is any guide I don’t believe that will happen any time soon if ever.  Roe v. Wade changed the law regarding abortion.  Repeated attempts to reverse that decision have all failed.  While I will not discourage others from using legal means to get the Court to reverse it’s decision, I will not devote my time and energy to trying to make it happen.

If the Court is unlikely to reverse its decision, what should the church do?  Jesus told his disciples:  "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16)  That advice is still good.

What might a wise and measured course of action be for the church?

(1) Protect the church and your pastor(s).  Some Christian businesses have been sued because they would not participate in same-sex unions.  The proprietors were not homophobic.  They did not hate those who practiced a lifestyle they did not agree with.  In many cases, they loved and served them.  They just could not participate in a ceremony that violated their Christian beliefs about marriage.  When their cases went to court they lost and many of them lost their businesses as well.  Now folks are concerned that churches will be forced to perform same-sex unions as well or risk being sued.

In Texas, Governor Abbot recently signed into law a measure that protects the church (see Chronicle article; see text of bill).  As important as that is, I would encourage churches to take additional steps to ensure that the church and their pastors are protected.  The Christian Life Commission, BGCT has prepared a guideline which I would encourage you to download and follow.  It is available in English and Spanish.

On July 14, from 1:00 to 3:30 CLC attorneys will be at the UBA offices to hold a seminar that will help churches know what to do.  Click here to register.  There is no charge for this training.

(2) Learn from our critics.  One of the criticisms leveled against the church is that we have been inconsistent in applying biblical teaching.  We say same-sex unions are wrong because the Bible says so, but we have not been as consistent on other issues like divorce.  We need to be more consistent in practicing what we preach.

(3) Respond to our detractors with grace.  When news of the Court’s decision was announced, I was sitting between two African-American pastors in a service memorializing Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Dylann Roof, who is white, gunned down nine African-Americans in church hoping to inspire racial strife.  The church responded to hatred with love.  They retaliated with forgiveness, not vengeance.  Reminiscent of Joseph, they took what Mr. Roof meant for evil and used it for good.  That’s my prayer for the church … that we will respond with grace and truth.  Though I do not believe the Court meant their decision for evil, the church must find a way to turn it to good!

Christians know this world has never been our home.  We have, since the time of Jesus, been pilgrims in this world.  The church was born in a hostile environment.  Christians were persecuted, prosecuted, imprisoned and in many cases martyred.  Still the church grew.  The church does not need the culture to support its values and beliefs in order to grow.  The early church showed us that.  The church grew under communism in Russia and China, and it can grow here.  The church is growing in the Islamic dominated Middle East, and it can grow here.

The early church did not grow because the predominant Greek and Roman cultures supported it.  Quite the contrary.  It  grew because it was distinct and different from the prevailing culture.   When the cultural norm was to treat women as property, Christians treated women as people.  When culture said it was okay to abandon unwanted children in the street, Christians picked them up, took them home and nurtured them.  When it was culturally acceptable to abandon the sick and leave them to die, Christians nursed them even though it meant risking their own lives.  The fact that cultural norms are moving away from biblical teachings may make it harder to practice our faith, but it will also make our lifestyles more distinctive.  The darker the sky the brighter the stars shine.  That must be the church’s legacy going forward (Daniel 12:3; Philippians 2:15).

Throughout my life the Supreme Court has made decisions that have changed the culture in America.  In the 60s prayer was taken out of public schools.  In the 70s abortion was legalized.  Now same-sex unions are considered marriage.  It’s no wonder folks are saying the sky is falling.

Isaiah was a prophet in Israel when the king Uzziah died.  The country was in despair because the king was dead.  Who would lead them?  What would they do?  Isaiah went into the temple where the Bible says he had a vision and saw the Lord high and lifted up, seated on a throne.  The message was clear.  There is no need to despair.  God is still on his throne.  The throne in Israel may be vacant, but the throne in heaven is not!

When others say the sky is falling, I remember the God who created the earth and sky is still holding things together.  The church is still his church.  The Bible is still our guide.  Am I troubled?  Sure.  Am I despairing?  Not at all.  I am more committed than ever to living out my faith before a watching world and to heeding the advice of Paul to the Philippians:  "Therefore my dear friends ... continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God, without fault in a crooked and depraved generation …shin[ing] like stars in the universe ... hold[ing] out the word of life" (Philippians 2:12-16).

2 comments:

  1. Very good Article and Reminder of the Word. THank you for sharing Pastor Tom. I'm blessed to received this word. - Pastor Charles Torres

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    1. Thanks, Charles. Please, be sure to read my next post as well. Happy 4th.

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