Does Gay Marriage Threaten the Gospel?

The California Supreme Court has decided that gay couples should be allowed to wed. The decision went into effect last month (June 2008). Not surprisingly many of my fellow evangelicals are up in arms. Does gay marriage threaten the proclamation of the Gospel? Some are claiming that it does. I doubt it.

Recently I received an invitation from a local mega-church pastor inviting me to a “Strategic Protect Marriage Conference Call” for pastors and Christian leaders. The organizing group arranged about 100 “gathering sites” for a similar initiative last month, and is hoping to double the number of sites and participants this time. Their goal is to activate 7 million California voters in favor of marriage as God ordained it—that is, as a committed heterosexual union of a man and a woman that is open to nurturing and supporting new life. They hope to do so by organizing support for a proposed California Constitutional Marriage Amendment on the November ballot—one that would define marriage in traditional terms.

This is a legitimate initiative for a group of conservative evangelicals to take. Surely democracies are designed to allow diverse groups to make their best arguments publicly, and it is in the best interests of any society to guarantee to its citizens the freedom to do so. So far, this is good and legitimate.

But then I read a bit further on in the electronic invitation. That’s when I started to feel just a bit uncomfortable about the rhetoric. The email reproves a certain category of pastors who might not support this initiative because they are “oblivious to the peril in California right now, as it relates to [Christians’] ability to continue to preach the entire Bible with freedom, without fear of reprisal, without fear of censorship by the ‘politically correct police.’” This suggests that an awful lot more is at stake here than might be assumed.

Using the kind of militant imagery that is increasingly characteristic of public discourse today, the letter adds: “This is a winnable war. And, unfortunately, the freedom to proclaim the Gospel hinges on the outcome of this election.” I wish there was more emphasis in this campaign on reasoned discourse with political opponents, and commitment to the basic civil rights of non-Christians in our secular society. The tone is consequently more strident and off-putting than we should expect of our evangelical leaders.

I can live, albeit uneasily, with the militant rhetoric of this letter, and there’s plenty of it: Volunteers are “ground troops,” while “armies of youth” are being activated and trained across California for this “ultimately victorious battle.” Evangelicals don’t have an exclusive franchise on this sort of thing—even the Sierra Club stoops on occasion to similar confrontational metaphors. They rally “the troops” and bring in cash.

But I have to draw the line when it is suggested that the freedom of Christians in California to proclaim the Gospel hinges on the outcome of this vote. This kind of rhetoric is incendiary and unacceptable. And it’s not even true. It certainly does not reflect well on Jesus Christ, our example and savior, who was full of grace and truth. So let’s tamp down the hysteria and fear-mongering. It is good when a nation aligns itself with the principles of righteousness and truth. But a friendly State has never been a prerequisite to the flourishing of the Gospel. We need only to look to the robust performance of the early Christians before their faith was legalized by Constantine, or to those in China today, to realize this. Maybe such shrill rhetoric reveals that this campaign may be less about what is good for America, and more about our loss of social control, than we might like to admit.

5 Responses to Does Gay Marriage Threaten the Gospel?