How Christians Have Partnered With Gays to Attack Marriage - How Christians Have Partnered With Gays to Attack Marriage

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bride and groom on faultline

As Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress has warned, once the law recognizes gay marriage, there will be court cases against religious institutions (colleges, universities, camp grounds, hospitals, adoption agencies, and so on) that refuse to treat legally married same-sex couples the same as married heterosexuals.

Similarly, it’s likely that government will slowly withdraw benefits from faith-based organizations that believe they shouldn’t treat legally married same-sex partners the way they treat husbands and wives. Gay activists will undoubtedly argue in the courts that government dare not “subsidize discrimination” and therefore government funds must not flow to faith-based organizations that oppose gay marriage or refuse to hire persons engaged in homosexual actions.

The evidence is clear. The widespread redefinition of marriage in the law would have far-reaching negative consequences. It would mean abandoning what every civilization for millennia has understood marriage to be. It would further erode the already weakened marriage culture and seriously undermine religious freedom. 

Given the momentous importance of this issue, we must make our best effort to preserve the historic understanding of marriage—even though there is no certainty that we will succeed. 

That isn’t to suggest our case is hopeless. Though the latest Gallup poll shows a majority of Americans (53 percent) now favor gay marriage (last year only 44 percent favored it), every time the issue has been in the ballot—in 31 statewide referendums—the voters have refused to endorse gay marriage. The divorce rate is the lowest in 40 years, so perhaps we are beginning to make progress on renewing marriage.

Hate Isn’t a Response

What can we do that offers the best chance of success as we seek to retain the historic understanding of marriage?

First, we can demonstrate our desire to respect and treat gay people fairly. One significant way to do that would be to support the legal recognition of civil unions. (This may actually reduce promiscuity as well.) There are several things that gay couples want that are fair, such as hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights and joint property ownership. I see no problem with a carefully written law that defines a number of such specified rights as part of a legally recognized civil union.

That doesn’t mean those rights should include everything. Given the purpose of the state’s marriage legislation, there are some rights and benefits—specifically those designed to strengthen the likelihood that children grow up with both biological parents—that belong only to those who are married and not to those in civil unions. 

To have a realistic chance of success in retaining the historic definition of marriage, we must do two other things: 

First, change the widespread perception that Christians generally, and evangelicals and charismatics in particular, hate gays; second, set our own house in order by dramatically reducing the devastation and havoc in our families caused by heterosexual disobedience.

Our changing the public perception dare not be a tactic. We must truly repent of the deep, widespread anti-gay prejudice in our circles. 

We must ask forgiveness for our failure to condemn gay bashing; repent of our refusal to walk gently and lovingly with young people in our churches struggling with their sexual identity; and stop elevating the sin of homosexual practice above other sins. We must also make a clear distinction between homosexual orientation and practice.

One more thing is essential, and I think it is the most important. Our argument that the tiny gay community is to some extent undermining marriage sounds like a hypocritical farce unless we acknowledge and correct the fact that the most important reason for the dangerous decline of marriage and family is the sinful failure of husbands and wives to keep their marriage vows.

If we can’t do whatever it takes to help the next generation of Christians resist adultery and divorce and model wholesome, joyful family life, then we should admit that we have nothing credible to say in the public discussion of marriage.

On the other hand, if in the next couple generations, Christian husbands and wives would keep their marriage vows for a lifetime and raise their biological (and adopted) children in joyful wholesome families, our homes would be one of our most powerful evangelistic tools. And they would also give us credibility when we go to the wider culture to promote the historic understanding of marriage.

I devoutly hope and pray that the Christian world in general, and charismatics and evangelicals in particular, will rise to this challenge. I pray we will model faithful marriages and wholesome families, as well as persuade the larger culture that God’s definition of marriage is not an arbitrary divine command but the way to lasting joy and wholeness for families and society.


Ronald J. Sider is the president of Evangelicals for Social Action, which develops biblical solutions to social and economic problems. He is a professor of theology, holistic ministry and public policy at Palmer Seminary of Eastern University in Wynnewood, Pa., and director of the seminary’s Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy.

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