Our goal for every precious, eternal human soul is not for them to agree that we are right on issues—including those of human sexuality. Our goal, and God’s desire, is that each one be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. A bit of sanity (agreement with reality) along the way doesn’t hurt, but our goal is the gospel—that is the finished work of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Here’s some context about how we got where we are, why we are right but sometimes get it wrong, and what to do about it moving forward.
In 2013, in a 5-4 opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law passed by margins of 342-67 in the House and 85-14 in the Senate, becoming law with the immediate signature of Democratic President Bill Clinton. DOMA, as it is known, protected marriage in the traditional understanding. U.S. v. Windsor struck down DOMA, which has been further buried by the “Respect for Marriage Act,” signed into law by President Joe Biden (who supported DOMA as a Senator in 1996) last December.
But read the opinion. It’s amazing what you find in the decision itself rather than just the media coverage. At the heart of the Kennedy opinion was the idea that the only reason to oppose same sex marriage was “animus,” and thus the law was unconstitutional. Dissents fired back wisely, but the opinion stood.
The result of that “animus” decision was the presumption that anyone who opposed same sex marriage was motivated by animosity toward their fellow Americans. This presumption started shifting public opinion quickly. President Barack Obama, who ran on a platform that did not call same sex unions marriage in 2008, reversed course in 2012. Religious liberty exceptions were granted, but one had to tacitly plead guilty to animosity toward homosexuals in order to receive those protections. Now “religious liberty” is touted as a “dog whistle” for homophobia.
In 2014-2016, in response to the growing emphasis on same sex marriage and other societal manifestations of sexual perversion, many states passed “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” laws (“SOGI”). Some passed, others didn’t, and a handful of laws were vetoed by otherwise supportive governors who bowed to pressure from businesses threatening boycotts. This phenomenon has expanded today to cover a wide variety of issues and locales.
Most recently, legislation in Florida prohibited the nurturing of homosexual or transgender desires and intents in the public school system. This was panned as “making it illegal to say ‘gay’” or “creating an environment of violence towards transgender people.” Ironically, I found myself unintentionally in the middle of a protest on the subject while at a wholly unrelated conference in Orlando.
At the heart of the pushback is the assumption that the only reason to oppose same sex marriage or transgenderism is hatred toward people. Admittedly, some do a pretty good job of expressing themselves in a way that lends credence to that accusation, but the position of the Christian is that a “transgender woman” is a man who has chosen to take steps to behave in a certain way or modify themselves in a certain way, but is nonetheless a precious, eternal human soul for whom Christ died.
On June 26, 2015, right before I spent a couple of weeks studying Apologetics, Christian Ethics, and Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, the Supreme Court of the United States decided 5-4 that laws in states restricting same sex marriage were unconstitutional. It was an apt time to study the subject—and to do so abroad. Since then, Christians, Christian churches, and Christian institutes of higher education have felt the pressure from state tribunals and federal agencies. Many Christians have modified their theology so as to sail along with prevailing winds. It’s tragic. But the White House celebrated with rainbow lights, and celebrities demonstrated their courage by calling for punishment of people who disagreed.
Let me reproduce one paragraph of the opinion, written also by Justice Anthony Kennedy. This is chilling, and at the heart of the issue:
The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.
The dissents were legendary, especially that of Justice Antonin Scalia:
The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of the Court to do so.* Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent. ‘The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.’ (Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.
[Scalia’s footnote] If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,” I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.
The conclusion? Everything rests on identity, which you get to choose. In this opinion, SCOTUS enshrined as precedent the American right to pursue alternate reality. This is not good for anyone.
One lightning rod in this realm is the idea of “conversion therapy.” As characterized for the sake of its demonization, it means manipulating and controlling people to deny who they really are. Properly understood, it means re-training people toward rightly-ordered desires. But neither of these is the “conversion” that Christians talk about in terms of rightness before God: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my voice and believes Him who sent me has eternal life, and will not pass into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24)
There are only two rightly-ordered expressions of human sexuality:
- Chastity, meaning thinking and acting in ways that embrace beneficial limitations– Absolute freedom is illusory; fences keep sheep in and wolves out.
- Lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage– This is the (only) procreative union, not that such a union has to be fruitful to be real, but that only this union produces our posterity.
The last of these sounds scriptural, though we would add thoughts like “both being committed Christians” to best practices, but it is really just an appeal to natural law. This is the way things are, whether people realize it or desire it. Everything else is pretending, like the New York Times headline last year about the baby born to a transgender man married to a transgender woman. This is insanity; the participants in the story are captives—and the child a victim.
It is always good to help people embrace reality, but profoundly misguided to think that victory and freedom means helping boys be sexually attracted to girls. As has been the case in history, when society makes a mess of things the church steps in to pick up the pieces. We have opportunity ahead of us as Christians; we dare not let fear and exhaustion make us cynical. Our model is Christ, Who, when reviled, did not revile in return, but kept entrusting his soul to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)
Victory and freedom comes only through forgiveness of sins. Our part in that is sharing the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, and calling men, women, and children to repentance. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, (Romans 2:4) so this is good news, indeed. Our “tormentors” in these matters are not enemies but fellow captors. Our desire is not their death—Satan is pursuing that on his own. Our desire is God’s desire, that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. God desires not that the wicked should perish, but that the wicked should repent, and live. And so we repent of our own wickedness and live, calling others also to repentance and life.
Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.Jude 22-25 (NIV)
Afterthoughts—Born that way
When I started thinking about these matters, everything quickly came back to “we need to be compassionate because they are just born that way.” In a way, that’s true, because we’re all born in sin, and all of us have different brokenness, different temptations. But the idea was “I feel this, so I am this, and I must do this,” and that’s pretty dark. Take the idea for a test drive and see where it leads you.
“Born that way” was always a lie, and I demonstrated this with varying statements from the APA that first insisted on, then denied, a genetic cause of homosexuality. This was all part of an intentional strategy outlined in a 1990 book on the subject. But now the “T” in LGBTQIA+ has done all that work for us. If you need surgery and/or hormones then you’re not “born that way.” The internecine squabbling between the LG crowd and the T’s has broken out into proper rebellion. You’re either “born that way” or you’re not, and no one gets more fury directed at them as the “detransitioners” who went through transgender “affirming care” and now regret it.
*Full opinion response https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/14-556#DISSENT_5-22
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