Ever since last Friday’s Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage church leaders have been in a reactionary posture. Some of this is to be expected. Our parishioners and congregants are as varied in their views on this issue as they are on any other, and with those variances come a plethora of questions concerning the ruling and what the Church’s stance should be. And as church leaders try to answer these questions and find a footing that is both Biblical and compassionate I’ve noticed a disturbing trend amongst those Christians who seem to be more sympathetic to the Supreme Court rulings than the majority of conservative Christ-followers. Their questions tend to zero in on the church’s stance on divorce and take the tack of playing the comparison game:
- “Why won’t you marry a gay couple but you’ll marry someone who has been divorced?”
- “Why is the church giving so much attention to homosexuals but not addressing the culture of divorce?”
- “Isn’t divorce as bad as gay marriage? Why not condemn divorcees too?”
The problem with these questions is that (a) they make a major mistake in equating sins, and (b) they misrepresent the church’s stance on divorce.
Not All Sins Are Equal
One of the biggest myths that crops up whenever the church confronts societal sin is that “all sins are equal in the eyes of God.” While all sins are equal in the eternal consequences that they reap (physical and spiritual death) not all sins are equal in the earthly consequences they generate. This is why our justice systems have different levels of punishment for different crimes. For example, we don’t give the death penalty to those who fail to keep the parking meter fed with quarters because that would be excessive.
Nor are all sins equal in their nature. Some sins are “one timers”. They are committed once then repented of, rarely if ever to be repeated again. But there are “lifestyle sins” which are sins that our whole life and existence revolve around. Sins of addiction, excess and, yes, sexuality fall under this category. Lifestyle sins can be repented of, and the power of Christ can overcome them, but it requires a lot of effort, a lot of grace, and a lot of repentance to overcome such sins.
Now, how does this relate to divorce and gay marriage? While they are both sins in the eyes of God, they are sins of two different natures (unless someone is living a lifestyle of divorce). I want to be clear: God HATES divorce. Divorce destroys that which was made to last a lifetime. It sullies the living parable of God’s love for his people that marriage is supposed to be. It destroys families, wrecks children and has been the source of all kinds of pain. Divorce is sin.
But it is not an unforgivable sin, and the church decided to stop treating it like it was a long time ago.
On the other hand Gay Marriage is something that both advocates and provides an atmosphere for a lifestyle sin to flourish with little to no chance of being challenged to repent. It attempts to normalize sin; to color it as something good and acceptable. Whereas a divorced person can repent and return to his spouse, or marry another and then repent and remain faithful to his current spouse, a person in a gay marriage is being sold a lie that what they have is good, wholesome, and acceptable to God. Gay marriage is dangerous and utterly destroys the picture that marriage is supposed to represent: the marriage between Christ and His bride, the Church.
The Church’s Stance on Divorce Has Not Changed
For those who think the church has turned a blind eye to divorce, rest assured, our view has not changed. Divorce is still viewed as something sinful, destructive and unholy. Yet, over the years the church has learned that ostracizing and excommunication are not the answer to confronting divorce. Most churches have opted for a more grace-centered approach. Divorces happen for a multitude of reasons and no two are alike. Personally I have counseled couples to seek restoration, even in the face of adultery. But I have also extended grace to those who admit, “I have been divorced. I’ve repented. I’m ready to begin a new life.” Jesus can grant new life, and the Church needs to be on the front lines offering that new life to all.
What About Repentant Homosexuals?
If the church is willing to treat divorce as a forgivable sin, we must be willing to do so for those who attempt to leave the homosexual lifestyle. Jesus promises new life to all, not just straight people. Our message must be one of “Come just as you are, but don’t expect Jesus to leave you that way.” Repentance must accompany salvation, no matter the sin. However, we must recognize that anyone leaving a lifestyle sin is going to struggle with temptation and may relapse several times. The church must be in the mess of their lives to help them rise when they fall.
But this does not mean we embrace legislation that attempts to normalize sin. Nor should we celebrate it. Nor should we play the game of trying to compare it to other sins.
Let’s be full of grace.
Let’s also be steadfast.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” Isaiah 5:20
“Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Romans 1:32