Should we accept that a moral issue has reached the point where continuing to fight for Biblical standards is not a wise use of our time and resources? That is the question Christians face as President Trump seems uninterested in the issue of homosexual marriage, calling it “settled law”. In his acceptance speech at last year’s Republican Convention, Trump specifically and publicly acknowledged his homosexual and transgendered supporters. As President, he will not begin any action to change current law on this topic. Some Evangelicals who supported Trump in last year’s election have stated that Christians should focus on the abortion issue and realize that homosexual marriage is an issue that the Supreme Court will not reverse itself on. Yet the 2016 Republican National Committee Platform, which is almost a concise course in political theory, stresses the Republican opposition to homosexual marriage and transgendered relationships.
What does “settled law” mean? Certain laws, which have a long and accepted basis for their existence, truly are “settled”, such as laws against murder and stealing. Unless a society degenerates into a culture completely unrecognizable from what we live in today, the laws against murder will never be reversed and are “settled”. But laws legalizing abortion and homosexual marriage are more recent, especially homosexual marriage. Additionally the legalization of these practices is not accepted by large numbers of people, unlike laws against murder and stealing.
Although the Supreme Court case legalizing abortion was “settled” in 1973 (44 years ago) as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the issue has been continuously debated and litigated in the wider “public square”. As we learn more details about various forms of abortion and about the development of a baby in the womb, more people are expressing reservations about abortion. These reservations may very well lead to changes in abortion law or even the Supreme Court modifying its previous abortion decisions.
The Supreme Court case which made homosexual marriage possible is less than two years old. Americans are still strongly debating homosexual marriage and other marriage issues. To say the issue of homosexual marriage is “settled” seems to give up too quickly. However, once a society gives someone a “right”, it is very difficult to “undo” that right, as the movement to ban alcoholic beverages illustrates. The issue of homosexual marriage has some very powerful advocates, such as most of the entertainment industry and much of the federal government bureaucracy. Additionally, homosexual marriage focuses on the sexual and marriage, two areas where people will fight to the death.
For those who believe the Bible, any issue or problem which contradicts Biblical teaching is never settled. In other words, we never “give up” because the gospel is powerful and the Holy Spirit still convicts people of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11). We never “give up” because there’s always someone to talk to and because we have the freedom to talk to them. An issue like abortion or homosexuality is only “settled” when Christians stop working for the gospel. We have a Biblical and moral responsibility to persuade people concerning the correctness of Biblical teaching. This responsibility begins with the gospel, as moral beliefs are always gospel-related.
Practically, from our human perspective, the moral trend in America and many other countries is toward more “freedom” and “rights” which inevitably leads to the practice and acceptance of more sin. Current events do not give any encouragement that we will ever go back to the legal and moral atmosphere of pre-abortion and pre-homosexual marriage. In fact, the legal and moral trend is even swinging toward acceptance of polygamy. So as we pray and do gospel work, which is the fundamental basis for change, we should understand the strength and momentum of current cultural changes.
The question is not can the Supreme Court overrule a previous opinion granting a group or behavior protection under Constitutional law. The Supreme Court can and does overrule previous opinions. But doing so usually takes many years. The question is: Will the Supreme Court reverse a previous opinion where doing so would probably create major societal and cultural chaos? The Court is not unaware or unconcerned about the social and cultural impact of its decisions. The Court is influenced by culture, just as all of us are. When the Court ruled that states could not prohibit homosexual marriage or refuse to recognize homosexual marriages performed in other states, that decision was not the result of carefully reasoned legal argument, as the majority strained to do in its majority opinion. The decision was more the result of cultural forces affecting the Justices’ views about marriage and homosexuality. But the Court is not going to modify or overturn the 2015 homosexual marriage decision so soon after approving it. That makes the Supreme Court look foolish and erratic, and the Court is very protective about its image as the third branch of the federal government.
How willing is the Court to rule against what the majority culture accepts? History shows the Court will, but not often. More often, the Court will modify a previous opinion rather than overrule it completely, which gives the culture time to accept the new changes or restrictions.
Are certain issues “settled law” and therefore beyond change? Very few issues are, other than basic rights specified in the Bill of Rights and basic moral law such as murder. Legal slavery was “settled” for decades until the Court and Constitutional change eliminated it. Segregation was “settled law” for decades until the Court eliminated it. Polygamy is prohibited by “settled law”, but the Court is close to voiding polygamy restrictions.
When do Christians stop trying to change the culture they live in, particularly those aspects which involve moral issues that are important, even essential, to Biblical morality? The theological answer is “Never”. We keep giving the gospel, and we keep trying to change what people believe. We remember that the choices and beliefs that people have are based on more than intellectual reasoning. What people believe and accept is also based on emotion, feeling, and what their friends believe and accept (peer pressure and cultural influence).
Additionally, an underlying spiritual basis exists for belief or nonbelief: our rebellion against God, which is a major motivating factor in many peoples’ lives, even if they are unaware of it.
Can we find any historical examples of when a culture turned away from Biblical morality and later turned back to Biblical morality? The only examples I can think of involve revival. But revival seems to impact the generation living during the revival and perhaps the children of those people. But two or three generations past the time of revival, the later generations seem to be more like those who lived before revival. This is somewhat like the early chapters of Judges when a generation lived who had not seen the power of God and, practically, did not know God. The rest of Judges reveals how those people lived, and it wasn’t pleasant.
I don’t believe that the growing acceptance and toleration of homosexual marriage and transgendered people is going to change anytime soon. The best strategy is to give people the gospel, pray for conviction and the changes that result in individuals, families, and communities when people trust Jesus Christ as Savior.
Wally Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN. The church blogsite is amomentofcharity.blogspot.com. He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.
- For many years, law school journals have seriously discussed the legal basis for legalizing polygamy. [↩]