Editor’s note: As the Maryland state legislature considered a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, earlier this year, Ben Cachiaras encouraged his congregation, Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland, to respond in a way that honors Christ. (The bill ultimately died without being passed.) Below is an excerpt from what Ben wrote in March.
Christians need to think carefully about this issue. Here are a few incomplete thoughts and observations, offered humbly into the discussion:
• The landscape in America has changed. Recent polls confirm what we already know—that a growing number of Americans are prepared to recognize gay couples as couples. It is a growing reality in this culture, so in one sense, this discussion was inevitable.
• Some seem to see this as merely a “pro” or “con” issue: Are we in favor of or opposed to homosexuality? It’s not that simple. One aspect at the heart of this issue is whether gay couples should be granted the same civil privileges or legal protections as heterosexual couples.
Christians are feeling the responsibility to defend traditional marriage and argue against same-sex unions being recognized—only to realize that arguing against recognition of gay marriages by the state can result in their children being denied protection and civil measures. There is a tricky side to this for people like us who have clear moral boundaries that speak to the practice of homosexual behavior on the one hand, but who are also guided by the law of love that suggests we don’t act spitefully to harm gay couples or their dependents, even if we disagree on moral grounds with their lifestyle. We may not want to acknowledge gay marriage, but there are gay couples. Unfortunately, in the current debate, about the only way to stand for traditional marriage puts us in a position of voting for measures that many will construe as being harmful to others.
To me, this means we must be extra careful about how we discuss this so we don’t give any reasons for Christians to be misunderstood as uncaring or hate-mongers. Our position and actions should not be motivated by a desire to harm anyone. And if our position or actions do harm others, it doesn’t seem Christlike to pump our fists triumphantly in the air. Rather, we can humbly recognize that politics in a pluralistic society is messy business.
• My friend Ethan Magness shared these important thoughts: “As citizens of a democracy, it is our right and responsibility to support laws that work for the good of all. As Christian citizens this especially means that as we make political choices, we make those choices to support the most good for the most people. We cannot be selfless in our personal lives but somehow let ourselves be selfish in our public policy. This puts a special burden on Christians who seek to participate wisely in public life. We seek to educate ourselves, weigh the issues, and act in humility and with special care toward those whose needs and views are very different than our own.”
Be the Church
• The most important thing the church can do is to be the church. We will teach the truth, proclaim the good news, and live out a special kingdom-of-God-type community, knowing our real citizenship is in Heaven.
We are called to release God’s people into the world to be salt and light in whatever ways they are called to be. Some will pray courageously. Some will serve quietly but consistently. Some will enter into the fray of politics or the public square. But as a church, our primary contribution will not be to bring about God’s kingdom via a political regime or legal mandates.
This is not to say we should ignore those things; it’s just to remember that our best investment is in the gospel—that’s the real power of God for salvation. We may never get the entire world to “act like” Christians and observe the morality that Christians uphold. But that is not our commission. Our commission is to make more and better disciples, and the way we do that is by being the church.
My personal beef about this issue is this: it ticks me off that the government thinks it has any business redefining marriage. It’s not really about the homosexual issue for me. It’s about government stepping in and arrogantly presuming it could “redefine” something that doesn’t belong to it.
Abraham Lincoln asked, “If I call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?”
Someone answered, “Five?”
Lincoln replied, “No, the dog still has only four legs. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.”
• Marriage is, by definition, the union between one man and one woman. If I say I want to have four people join in some kind of special relationship, or otherwise change the nature of the definition, I am free to do that. But I would also be required to come up with a different name for those unions. Marriage is bigger than government. It is a God-ordained social institution that government stepped in to regulate.
Regulation is one thing; redefinition is another. Suppose the commissioner of Major League Baseball announces, “We need to change some details about the game of pro baseball next season. We’re going to make it against the rules for a player to lead off when attempting to steal a base. And from now on players can’t catch a ball that’s over the boundary wall. It’s got to be in the park or it’s no catch.” That’s regulation. Some folks won’t like the changes, but it’s still baseball.
But imagine if the commissioner says, “From now on baseball is a game played with a birdie and a net on grass.” Even if he voted it into “law,” many would rightfully resist it. It is simply not the commissioner’s place to redefine baseball.
Nor is it the government’s place to pretend it can redefine marriage. In fact, it never will. Whatever laws are passed or enacted in Maryland or elsewhere will, at most, change only what the state recognizes as “marriage.” But marriage will remain what it is, much like baseball will always be a game played with a bat and a ball. The fact that there are other games gaining in popularity doesn’t mean you change the definition of baseball to include them.
I just wish there were a way to be against redefining marriage without being perceived as being hateful to those who desire same-sex unions.
Strike the Right Balance
• On any issue like this we must strike that balance that comes from solid traction in both truth and love. An article on this subject in our local paper spoke about the “loving” thing to do on this issue—but it lacked biblical truth on the matter and was therefore misguided.
By contrast, I recently witnessed a horrifying TV interview with a woman who claimed to represent God and a church. She insisted her hate-filled speech and condemnations of others was grounded in the truth of the Bible. Even if her comments had a grain of truth, love was so lacking that she was not worth hearing.
Truth without love is not biblical truth. Love without truth is not biblical love. However you choose to speak and act, if you do not have the truth of God and the love of Christ, then your actions are not in step with the Spirit of God.
• Pray, act, love. There is a lot at stake and yet, we don’t need to wring our hands. By this I mean we should not ignore these important issues. You may want to encourage your delegate by letting him or her hear your voice on this. I encouraged mine to vote against redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships. There may be other actions God is prompting you to take. But mainly, I think, we need to pray and love.
Pray for God to be at work in this issue in our churches, our lives, our nation, and in our world. And then act as God directs. I suspect in the days ahead, we will have a tremendous opportunity to show uncommon love to people. Are you ready to do this?
It may be necessary for us to march, protest, and complain about this. But let’s remember that, as the body of Christ, we need to be more than the mouth. We need to be hands and feet that administer love as well.
The gay couples around you—and they ARE there—need to know that even though you vote against the legislation, and even if you abide by Scripture which identifies homosexual practice as against God’s will, you are also controlled by the impetus of Scripture in which Jesus assures us, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
As citizens of Heaven, let’s be the best citizens of our state we know how to be. And as people who love the truth and grace of Jesus, let’s hold firmly to both, so that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).
Ben Cachiaras is senior pastor at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland, and serves as a contributing editor for CHRISTIAN STANDARD and as a Publishing Committee member with Standard Publishing.