And I'll go ahead and say right now that if you are reading this blog and are not a Christian, this post is not really for you. I'm asking in-house questions about church membership. I have no intention of working through the theological, historical, or ethical questions concerning homosexuality.
The Questions to be Asked
Given that several states have now legalized gay marriage, within the next decade Christian churches are going to have to deal with some of the implications of these new laws and this new historical circumstance. Specifically, we're going to see homosexuals who have taken advantage of these new laws convert to the faith and want to join the church.
So, three questions that should be raised as a result:
- When one homosexual currently in a civil marriage converts, should he (or she, I suppose) be required to get a civil divorce before he can join the church?
- When a homosexual married couple convert together, are they required to get a divorce before they can join the church?
- Given that these couples may have children, how does that factor in?
At the risk of over-populating this post with numbered lists, you'll notice that there are a number of assumptions I'm making here. Each of them could receive its own post (heck, its own book). Specifically, I'm assuming that:
- Christians--truly converted Christians, not just those who are culturally Christian--should want to join a church.
- A faithful Christian church will not allow for gay marriage, or even recognize such a things as "marriage" in the first place. Instead, it will hold to the Biblical view of marriage as being between one man and one woman.
- Christians are generally against divorce and in favor of traditional marriage.
Given these assumptions, what are we supposed to do in response to the above-mentioned questions?
Yet another caveat: in this particular post, I am only interested in the institutional side of the question. There are certainly additional moral and personal considerations to be discussed that may come into play--to say nothing of the whole question of homosexual 'marriage' as a political and religious issue to begin with. But here I'm more concerned with the practical side that the church has to face. Churches need to have some kind of set rules and guidelines about what to do in such a circumstance, because this will be an issue.
A Few Things to Consider
Again, none of these answer the questions, but I think they might be helpful to point out:
- Should the trend continue as it has, we will all eventually know at least one homosexual 'married' couple. Which means that our churches need to be working towards equipping us as members to navigate these relationships in a Godly way. Not being involved in this issue is very quickly becoming impossible.
- The fact that our local church may not have yet made a decision about homosexual "married" converts in no way lessens our responsibility to be good friends and to share the Gospel with homosexual individuals, whether they are married or not.
- Saying "we don't recognize what the state has done as a marriage in the first place, so they might as well get a civil divorce" is a problematic position, to say the least. It may be the best possible one, but it is one which churches should engage only after a good deal of thought.
After all, Christians have traditionally recognized marriages conducted by the state. This is because marriage is a gift given to the whole world, not a gift like baptism or communion that is unique to believers. We rejoice both when non-Christians enjoy this blessing and when the state recognizes marriage as the positive good that it is. However quickly the government is changing its position, we should not be equally quick to withdraw our support from the good that the state does in this area of life. Even after the establishment of homosexual marriage, we still need to recognize marriages between a man and a woman conducted by the state as legitimate marriages established by a legitimate authority. We want to be careful not to denigrate this authority when it is properly exercised, even if it is equally improperly exercised in other ways.
- And of course, we certainly don't want to contribute to the divorce culture that is already so pervasive. Being cavalier in telling Christians to pursue divorce, even if it is an attempt to escape a sinful parody of marriage, is unwise. (There are, after all, certainly plenty of sinful parodies of Godly marriage among heterosexuals as well--among Christians and non-Christians alike.)
- Answering the questions listed above will only be the beginning, but it will lay the foundation for answering future questions that spring from this issue. As just two examples:
a) If these new Christians want to get (re?)married in the church, what then?
b) Can these new Christians someday be elders?
The tone and thoughtfulness of our answers to the first questions will set the pace for future discussion, and so we need to be especially careful, thoughtful, and above all faithful to Scripture.
- These are difficult challenges for us now, but in the grand scheme of church history this is pretty tame stuff. We need to be sure that we don't develop a "woe is me" mentality about this particular issue. At this point, we are not facing persecution; we are not being ordered to sin; and beyond some name calling we are not facing any true pressure from the culture at all. That may change, but it's not where we are now.
All of this to say that the church is facing a challenge created by the culture which it needs to deal with sooner rather than later. As of now we have some time and space to think through this carefully, and we should take full advantage of that fact. If we put it off, we'll find ourselves scrambling to patch things together at the last minute. However much my professional work may flourish under conditions of last-minute panic, that's not a terribly wise or Godly way to run a church.
So those of you out there who know more about this than I do, get to it!