There will be ripples from the recent SCOTUS decision to permit same-sex marriage nationwide, but how far they will extend remains to be seen. Fear-mongers paint doom and gloom scenarios, and slippery slope skiers are lined up for a fast run down Exile, but nobody’s long-range vision is 20/20. We’re not even sure how we got here.
To get to this 5-4 vote, a major cultural shift occurred. Unlike Roe v. Wade where the SCOTUS decision shaped lifestyle practices and jurisprudence, same-sex marriage was legal in thirty-six states before this decision came down. (Granted, that number includes several states where federal court judges overruled the popular vote against same-sex marriage.) Still, the narrow majority vote for approval wasn’t surprising. If the ruling came in 1955 instead of 2015, the seismic shift would have registered on the cultural Richter scale. This year thousands marched in celebratory parades with confetti and rainbows, and many exercised their new legal right to marry a member of the same sex.
Future social historians will be able to analyze the forces behind the gradual acceptance of homosexual behavior. Right now we’re living it, and can’t remove ourselves enough to rightly judge the catalysts and methods that coalesced to result in this change. With that in mind, we’d be foolish to think the weak beam of our flashlight into the future can accurately reveal the path ahead. All we can be certain of is where we are now.
The Supreme Court decision put the nation on this game board square, and the question for each of us is, “How will I respond?” Many evangelical Christians and social conservatives are sounding the death knell of Life as We Know It and wringing their hands about the future their grandchildren will face. Such a response isn’t new, students of church history confirm the bells chime this tune in every generation. Then we’ll cry, “But it’s never been this bad before” — that’s what previous generations said, too.
A major downside of this doom and gloom mindset is its influence on our view of God; it makes him too small. It makes him smaller than nine, black-robed justices, smaller than the laws man writes. Reacting out of this framework is like taking a five-minute segment of a movie with a running time of thousands of years and writing a review. It’s like watching the hustle and bustle of a movie set and forgetting there’s a director to pull the confusion together. In the case of world events, there’s a loving director who lets the actors pick a weak script, forget their lines, screw up the day’s filming and still he crafts a masterpiece.
Let’s keep our footing and long-term perspective as the ripples spread out. We can be confident one legal ruling will not extinguish the Church that has survived two thousand years, though those who oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons will face increased opposition. We will need to articulate our thoughts and beliefs in ways we haven’t, as they weren’t particularly counter cultural before. This creates an opening for conservative thinkers and theologians to refine (or finally construct) a theology of sex, marriage and gender; let’s not head for the bomb shelter and miss it.
The societal acceptance of lifestyles and sexual behavior we wouldn’t choose or find acceptable will make us uncomfortable and push our buttons. But our hope is in the director, and a long-range view can mitigate our fears, and keep us in a dialogue with those who see things differently. This is an opportunity to be counter cultural with humility rather than fearful, self-righteous, and condemning. Can we do it? Will we do it?