Reaction from evangelical Christians across the nation to Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on the DOMA case has been swift and vitriolic. Social conservatives decry the degradation of traditional family values. Libertarians wish the court would stay out of social policy altogether. While the perceived winners and losers wrangle over the merits of the case, one question remains paramount. Should Christians care about how the federal or state government defines marriage?
Say you believe marriage is between one man and one woman for life. Does the government at any level (federal, state or local) have the right to impose your moral belief on the entire constituency? What would you say?
We need to recognize that the government is always imposing morality on people. That’s the nature of a law. As a nation, we’ve decided that it’s immoral to cheat on your tax returns, work as a prostitute, practice medicine without a license, etc. Unless you’re an anarchist, you really don’t want the government to avoid making moral evaluations of what’s right and wrong and enforcing their evaluation. Every law is designed in some way to reward good conduct, punish bad conduct, or accomplish a combination of both. The Apostle Paul expects no less in Romans 13:3-4:
“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
The moral nature of government requires the selection of a standard by which good conduct and bad conduct will be defined. Everyone contends for some moral standard, even the most ardent atheist. It may be a utilitarian standard. It may be a consequentialists standard. As a Christian, I believe that the right moral standard, the one that has historically promoted the greatest social stability and human flourishing, is the Word of God.
At this point we need to be honest as Christians and recognize that there are thousands of government decisions about which the Bible makes no explicit, moral proclamation. For example, should wolves remain on the endangered species list? God doesn’t say. Should the federal government encourage tax deductions for charitable contributions? God doesn’t say. But there are many moral issues about which the Bible is crystal clear, including the definition of marriage. Genesis 2:22-24 declares:
“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Marriage is a pre-political issue. It wasn’t established by the state. It was created by God and defined by Him as a life-long covenant between one man and one woman. That’s a moral issue on which the Bible couldn’t be more clear.
Should the government be in the business of regulating marriage and giving tax breaks to married couples? Probably. Marriage is unquestionably a blessing to society and deserving of government support, though the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what that regulation or support should look like. However the Bible does tell us that no individual, church, or government can redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. God already defined it. The government can say that two men or two women are married. God says they’re not. Call it a civil union. Call it a domestic partnership. God says it’s not a marriage.
Christians should be very concerned about how our government defines marriage because it’s an issue of clear, biblical morality. In this respect, the DOMA decision is an affront to the glory of God. It should prompt us to pray all the more earnestly for God’s mercy on our nation. And it should remind us that real hope for the future of marriage is never found in the changing nature of our civil laws, but in the unchanging power of God to protect and preserve what He has established.