Today is a sad day for America.
In Obergefell v. Hodges, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court ruled:
"The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State."
As a Christian minister and general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, I am deeply concerned with the Court's redefinition of marriage and the negative effects that it may have on religious freedom.
Scripture, Marriage, and Religious Freedom
Scripture defines marriage solely in terms of the union of a man and a woman (e.g., Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:5-9; cf. Genesis 1:27-28, 2:20-24; Ephesians 5:21-32). Not only that, Scripture prohibits same-sex intercourse (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10; cf. Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). When it comes to same-sex marriage, Scripture prohibits what the Supreme Court permits.
As Christians, Assemblies of God adherents affirm that the Bible determines what we believe and how we behave. Our Statement of Fundamental Truths puts it this way: "The Bible is our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice." And: "The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct" (emphasis added).
Our Scripture-based definition of marriage and understanding of sexual morality shapes what our Constitution and Bylaws require as behavioral standards for credentialed ministers, finds reflection in the Assemblies of God position paper on homosexuality, and provides the rationale for the conduct codes of our denominational offices, affiliate organizations, and colleges and universities.
I am grateful that in its decision the Supreme Court acknowledged that our opposition to same-sex marriage and behavior arises from "good faith" rather than animus. I am deeply concerned, however, about how the Court will rule when government laws and regulations that reflect its redefinition of marriage conflict with our biblical behavioral standards.
The answer to these questions based on the First Amendment should be a straightforward, "No!" But in oral arguments about Obergefell before the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli himself admitted, when asked a question such as these:
"I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue. I-I don't deny that. I don't deny that... It is-it is going to be an issue."
And that is my deepest concern. Although it should not be, religious freedom itself is "going to be an issue." In this way, the Supreme Court's ruling regarding so-called "marriage equality" will be used as a wedge to narrow the scope and weaken the protections afforded by the free exercise of religion guaranteed to Americans by the First Amendment. No religious person-Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.-can view that possibility as good news. No freedom-loving American should.
A Judicial Usurpation of Politics
As an American, I believe that this decision represents a judicial usurpation of politics. Proponents of same-sex marriage like to draw analogies between their movement and the Abolitionist and Civil Rights Movements. The analogy is false, but it is nonetheless instructive in this particular case.
Whereas abolition and civil rights were enacted democratically by amending the U.S. Constitution in the 1860s and passing national civil rights legislation in the 1960s, same-sex marriage has been democratically enacted in only 11 States and the District of Columbia. It has been imposed on 39 States and American territories by State and Federal Courts that overturned democratically enacted definitions of marriage as a man-woman union.
I cannot help but think that this is an unhelpful way to resolve the political, social, and moral conflicts that divide the American people.
Closing Words of Advice
I close with three words of pastoral advice:
First, to Assemblies of God ministers: Politics reflects culture, and culture reflects religion. If you are concerned with the political drift of American culture, preach the gospel! As it sends out roots in the lives of believers, the seed of the gospel will change hearts and minds.
Second, to Assemblies of God adherents: You are privileged citizens of a blessed nation. Use your citizenship well! Seek the common good. Advocate for the last, the lost, and the least. Speak the truth in love. And vote for candidates and issues that reflect a biblical perspective on issues. The difference in so many conflicts in American politics and culture turns on who turns out to vote.
Third, to all Christians: If you are troubled with the Supreme Court's decision, keep perspective! In this and every other matter, always remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ:
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
Let us all pray for a great spiritual awakening in our country!
May God bless you richly today and every day!
George O. Wood
Assemblies of God (USA)