To: Our Church of God Family in the United States and Canada
From: Jim Lyon, General Director, Church of God Ministries
Re: Response to the United States Supreme Court’s
Ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges
I have, since the Obergefell v. Hodges decision was released Friday (26 June 2015), received many moving requests (heart-felt pleas, really) from Church of God pastors (all over the map, geographically and theologically), asking me for some guideposts. The Obergefell ruling asserts a Constitutional right to marry for couples of the same gender (popularly dubbed “gay marriage”) in the same way couples of different gender (vernacular: “straight marriage”) have enjoyed since the nation’s founding. This Court outcome represents (or, perhaps, it might be said, acknowledges) a sea change in the social construct of our time.
In reply, this cover introduces a collection of resources and statements designed to help our pastors and congregations navigate in these unchartered waters. We at Church of God Ministries have taken some days to prayerfully evaluate the full text of the ruling (not just the headlines and editorials to which it has given birth), examine the Movement’s history wrestling with the issues in play, consider our polity and channels of voice, and consulted with leaders in other branches of the Christian family, whose spiritual and theological journeys closely align with our own.
The documents and links that accompany this letter are provided to give context not just on the definition of marriage, but also for how we, as a people, are framed in relationship to each other and the world around us. It is our prayer they will prove useful to you.
As general director of Church of God Ministries, I do not, of course, speak for the Movement, per se. No one does. However, as I explained in the concluding session of the 2015 Church of God Convention in Oklahoma City on Thursday, 25 June (just before the Court’s pronouncement), I am increasingly aware of a sense that the Movement itself, at some level, longs for a pastor. In the same way that a local church best moves forward with a shepherd at the helm (as contrasted to a congregation without a leader at the point, attempting to advance the kingdom cause without a pastor/shepherd), is it possible in a community of churches like the Church of God, that there is a place (a need?) for some form of shepherding? It is a question with which I am grappling; it is a question provoked by moments like these, in which pastors across the continent, are reaching out to me for advice. Local church ministry and the role to which I have now been called are not exact analogs, of course, but there are some parallels. In any case, my native wiring has been hugely informed and fashioned by my years as a local church pastor.
For almost all of my adult life, I have served as a pastor. I have spent more than a few years living with the weekly rhythm of sermon prep. As general director of Church of God Ministries in the last two years, I have not been the shepherd of a local parish, but am still often “in the pulpit,” all over the country (and, yes, the world beyond, too); I am still tuned up to preach, you might say, but without a fixed, local audience. I am still wired to care deeply for the people of God and the way in which we impact other believers and the secular society around us. I remain devoted to following the Good Shepherd, even as I believe He has called me to be one, an under-shepherd, watching over a flock.
Consequently, I am also sharing a kind of brief below, for any who are looking for a frame with which to respond to current events, preaching/teaching/pastoring. It is offered without any pretense of authority or Movemental definition; again, I understand that I do not speak conclusively “for the Movement.” What follows is being proffered upon request of local pastors; it is the heart of one pastor (me), hoping to encourage other pastors (you). We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, not one above the other. That said, these are my observations:
(1) The Church of God has repeatedly expressed (through its General Assembly and essential practice in all but a few places) its commitment to an orthodox definition of marriage, formed by the Genesis narrative (“for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife…”) and consistently reaffirmed in both Testaments (including by Jesus Himself). With this understanding I concur.
(2) Still, it must also be acknowledged that not everyone agrees on this line. Some thoughtful members of our own church family have come to different conclusions regarding the biblical frame. By their arguments, I have not been persuaded. Neither has the Assembly or the vast anchoring majority of the church. But, the idea that same-gendered marriage is permissible within the kingdom and that the Scriptures that say otherwise can be fairly re-interpreted in this modern time, remains in the minds of some. Managing the conversation can be a sticky wicket. Let none, on either side, dismiss the other with patronizing condescension (e.g. “They just don’t understand, they’re not educated enough, their ideas are narrow and prejudiced,” or “They care nothing for God’s Word and seek only their own pleasure.”) I believe the Word speaks clearly on this issue; I do not belittle those with whom I disagree. I am secure in my position and can listen respectfully to other views, while holding my own. Jesus B.
(3) I have never thought it helpful to address the issue of same-gendered attraction (homosexuality) apart from the larger continuum of human sexuality. Everyone is created in the image of God—and all of us have been created sexual beings. In this fallen world, everyone has a sexual challenge. Sexual ethics are not limited to “straight or gay.” No matter what our sexual challenge (for you it may be one thing, for me another—but all of us have some sexual issues/urges/predilections to manage), as citizens of the kingdom, we need to humbly pursue, together, the Lord’s will and way in this primary and fundamental area of life. For me, understanding the Lord’s will and way requires adherence to the Scripture; the Bible is our source authority, not the Court, popular media, or the oft-cited “wrong side of history.” History lasts a long time; sexual ethics will always be at the fore of spiritual and social experience; the Word never changes.
(4) Part of the church’s problem engaging effectively the culture today is that we have not excelled at making the church a safe forum for the exploration of sexual themes. The church is the last place most people would consider approaching when seeking sexual understanding or wisdom. At every level, from sexual attraction to sexual practice to what’s healthy and what’s not, the church has been largely silent, save the occasional broadside warning of condemnation for “adulterers and fornicators,” etc. We must intentionally (and courageously) create safe places in our church communities for the discussion of sexual themes and the frank teaching of biblical norms.
(5) When it comes to all dimensions of human sexuality, the church has been much more successful in emphasizing what we are against than what it is we are for. Again, we must intentionally and courageously elevate the wonder, the beauty, the righteousness of the great gift of sexuality God has given us. Let there be no shame in addressing it; let us be secure and confident that our Maker wrote the book on how to enjoy and be blessed by it. And then, let’s read the Book. When is the last time you’ve walked through a sermon series from Song of Solomon, for instance?
(6) The development of human sexuality—our sexual formation, preferences, attractions, and so on—remains largely a mystery. Popular science that announces “God made me this way” (in reference to sexual preferences) is, so far as I can tell, not real science. No conclusive scientific proof exists that sexual orientation or preferences of any kind are genetically predetermined. Some studies suggest it is so, others come to differing conclusions; the jury is still out.
(7) When we stop to carefully examine our sexual identity and preferences, many questions, for me at least, are raised:
How is our sexuality formed? Are we born “that way?” Am I straight—or gay—because I have been “created by God” one way or another? Why are some men attracted to women with enormous breasts, and others not so much? Why are some women attracted to the tall, dark and handsome guy and others not so much? Why are some adults turned on by the thought of sexual intercourse with minor children? Why are some men (and, I suppose, some women) thirsting for three-ways or multiple partners and others repelled by the idea? Why is monogamy perceived to be superior to polygamy? By what authority? Is it possible that God creates some women’s souls in men’s bodies—and vice versa? Is sexual identity even relevant to soul life? Why do some desire oral or anal sex and others find it repugnant? Are these genetic predispositions? Are they the result of subliminal or subconscious influences in infancy? Childhood? Adolescence? Adulthood? Are they choices or predetermined by our Creator or are they random traits, without design or explanation? Are they consequent to my conscious will or are they the fixed predispositions of my destiny? Does God create anyone one way and then demand they be another? Are my natural inclinations, in this fallen world, sound evidence of God’s design and purpose? Is my sexuality a blank page at birth, is it formed in the womb, a genetic script, or combinations of all of the above? And, whatever its causal factors, by what light do I manage my sexuality? When it comes to sexual appetites and desire, the palate and possibilities are vast. What does the Scripture say? What does Scripture suggest? Should we be asking these questions in church? Ouch. I think so.
Again, as you can see, this kind of sharing will require a kind of naked conversation we are not accustomed to having in church. But, that is a large part of our problem just now: because we have not had these kinds of conversations in church, the world has had them alone.
It is with this challenge in mind, that our first ChoG Table (later this fall) will tackle sexual ethics. A link to further Table information is included with this packet.
(8) Who qualifies to be married—in a way, the definition of marriage itself—is a critically important, foundational, concept. Marriage is a social contract of the most profound and intimate nature. Many countries require a civil (state) ceremony, even as those marrying also opt for a religious one (as a second, spiritual statement and witness). Many straight people marry in the United States outside of what I consider to be biblical boundaries: I have occasionally declined to officiate at some straight weddings over the years, concluding that what was permissible by the “laws of men” was not permissible by the “law of God;” this tension is not new. Marriage law (both secular and religious) necessarily requires a consideration of human sexuality and sexual ethics.
(9) The options for living outside of a New Testament sexual ethic are many. We must be certain that we do not condemn one pursuit with more vehemence or angst than another. A parent with a gay or lesbian child should not face more questions than a parent with a child enjoying “friends with benefits.”
(10) We must be very sensitive and caring for all who honestly face their sexuality and have loved ones who do, as well. We must be like Jesus, always working to call out the best in others, while remaining humble and acknowledging our own challenges in this life, also. Speaking the truth in love (as the Scripture commands) does not include excerpting Bible passages that prove a point and become clubs with which to beat others into submission. And while we all understand that the Lord’s way can offend some, being offensive is not a synonym for being righteous. When your loved one is living outside what you believe is God’s highest and best, you will need a church family that hugs you, not a lecture on why your loved one is, in its view, hell-bent.
(11) Prayer matters. Never give up praying, seeking, loving, believing. The best. And in the power of God to see all things worked together for the good, for those who are called according to His purpose. This is not just an inscription on a religiously themed Hallmark card: it is the Word of God.
(12) There is a difference between your position (what you believe to be truth) and your posture (how you engage others). Our position must be grounded in the Word; so should our posture be. Jesus was very clear, walking in this world, articulating truth more powerfully than any other. He also had a posture that welcomed everyone. He dined in houses scorned by many, He had conversations with anyone who would talk, He made every path He crossed better. In these days, so can we. So must we. Jesus B.
(13) We do not walk alone. The Church of God is part of the larger Christian family, of course, and the Wesleyan holiness theological tradition, in particular. Our brothers and sisters in the Global Wesleyan Alliance and the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium (e.g. the Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Free Methodists) speak also with one voice, with us. Ours is not a singular journey, but one designed by God to be approached with others redeemed by the blood and transformed by the Spirit. Links have been provided to these sister churches’ websites. You will find much good content there.
How the Church of God “Speaks”
After spending more than thirty-five years in pastoral ministry, I’ve accepted the assignment of serving as the chief advancement officer at Church of God Ministries. Among my responsibilities is the oversight of communication to the church and on behalf of the church. My years as a pastor, as well as my two-term role as chair of the General Assembly, has provided me a perspective on the question, Who speaks for the Church of God?
Recent headlines have brought increased requests for statements from Church of God Ministries regarding the position of the Church of God movement on various subjects. This article serves to provide perspective on the polity of our church and how we have chosen to work together and speak together.
Who speaks for the Church of God?
From the earliest days of the Church of God, the Bible has served as our only rule of faith. We’ve listened to the Holy Spirit for direction, and called out “man-rule” in all its forms. As such, no one person has ever officially spoken on behalf of the movement. The Church of God is a group of loosely affiliated congregations that function independently by design and cooperatively by choice. As such, the General Assembly—comprised of Church of God credentialed ministers, representative lay delegates, and heads of our endorsed and affiliated agencies—is the only authorized voice of the Church of God. Church of God Ministries exists to serve the needs of the General Assembly, and does not speak independently of the General Assembly. One of the ways Church of God Ministries functions is to compile the records and report how the General Assembly speaks.
As Barry Callen has written*, “while remaining a voluntary body, [the General Assembly] has become very influential in the oversight of most of the movement’s cooperative ministries based in [the United States and Canada]…[This is sometimes] accomplished by the influence of its united voice when a consensus can be reached on issues of common concern…Being the most representative body of the movement…on many occasions the General Assembly has spoken its corporate opinion to Church of God congregations, the national agencies, and the society at large. It has announced convictions and sounded warnings. It has attempted to encourage vision, influence opinion, gather resources, and mobilize effort.”
*Barry Callen (ed.), The Assembly Speaks (Anderson: Warner Press, 1985), 7–8.
The General Assembly is an effective Christian body demonstrating evidence of the Holy Spirit working in our midst. It’s a wonderful example of charismatic church government—that is, a body led by the Spirit of Jesus. On occasion, resolutions are passed by the General Assembly that address our common-held theological values and beliefs. Through this means, the Church of God speaks. Seldom do we speak with a unanimous voice, but we speak with the understanding that unity does not require unanimity.
What about the General Director, Jim Lyon?
Jim is a respected leader, an influential voice, and one who has clearly helped our church body to clarify our purpose. In 2013 he accepted the assignment to lead the work of Church of God Ministries, the organization that exists to coordinate and carry out the work of the General Assembly as directed by the Ministries Council.
In his recent report to the General Assembly, Jim said: “I find myself, in ways I would not have imagined, pastoring, as general director, attempting to lovingly discourage unhealthy patterns while encouraging grace to clothe honest and direct interpersonal communication.”
Jim has written a response to the recent SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage. His words, always pastoral, are intended to guide us in our thinking and in our conversation with one another, but never to usurp the voice of the General Assembly or the Ministries Council (which makes decisions on behalf of the assembly when it is not in session).
Our executive team at Church of God Ministries joins with Jim Lyon in urging you to minister with grace and compassion, while at the same time standing firm on the biblical definition of marriage. There are few families or congregations in this movement that have not been affected by homosexuality. We pray with you that the Holy Spirit will always be evident in our words and in our attitudes.
What has the General Assembly said about same-sex marriage?
The issues surrounding homosexuality have been addressed by the General Assembly four times in the past, beginning in 1979. The text of the last three resolutions are provided below:
Homosexuality (June 1993)
The General Assembly has, from time to time, deemed it appropriate to speak to the church regarding matters of spiritual, social and ethical importance. In 1979 the Assembly passed a resolution titled “Statement Against Homosexuality.” Since then the subject has emerged with spirited discussion in the public arena. It seems timely, therefore, that the Assembly once again address the subject with biblical conviction, compassion, and caring:
WHEREAS, there is a current national focus on homosexuality, frequently viewing it as an acceptable alternative lifestyle; and
WHEREAS, there is a long-standing biblical evidence that a homosexual life-style is perverse and destructive to individuals and society; and
WHEREAS, we in the Church of God are committed to biblical holiness and hold in high regard scriptural injunction related to homosexuality and therefore cannot accept, endorse or condone homosexual behavior; and
WHEREAS, we believe that the sexual relationship between man and woman within the bonds of marriage is viewed as something natural an beautiful—ordained by God; and
WHEREAS, we are a redemptive body and seek to express love, compassion, and concern for those who struggle with sexual identity or homosexual orientation to assist them in a chaste relationship in Christ; there for be it
RESOLVED, that the General Assembly call on congregational and institutional leaders of the Church of God to demonstrate love and provide counsel and materials to assist families and persons confused or distressed by homosexual behavior and to bring redemption and
wholeness to those persons/ be it further
RESOLVED, that we respectfully urge all persons inclined toward homosexual behavior to seek the
grace of God and such other aid and counsel as may be conducive to their relief; be it further RESOLVED, however, that the General Assembly of the Church of God go on record affirming our
convection that, biblically, we believe homosexual behavior is sin; be it further
RESOLVED, that the General Assembly stands firmly opposed to the licensing, ordination, or
approving for leadership those who are involved in this life-style; be it finally
RESOLVED, that the General Assembly supports instruction which brings understanding to issues related to homosexuality, but opposes instruction which endorses or promotes homosexual
behavior as an acceptable alternative or Christian life-style.
JUNE 29–30, 2004 General Assembly Meeting Minutes: Resolution Regarding Same-Sex Marriage
Whereas, the Church of God upholds the sanctity of family and the institution of marriage; and Whereas, the current topic about same-sex marriage is being debated in North America and other nations of the world and is identified under various titles: “Civil Union”, “Gay Marriage”,
“Same Sex Unions”, “Equal Marriage”, “Equal Partnership”, etc.; and
Whereas, this assembly in session June 1993 affirmed a resolution which stated our position of
homosexuality as a sin and therefore to be rejected; and
Whereas, the issues of homosexual partnerships continue to be a cause of concern and disunity within
society in general and the church particular; and
Whereas, there is action pending before Congress regarding the definition of marriage.
Be it therefore resolved: that this assembly, the 86th Session General Assembly of the Church of God, go on record as supporting the definition of marriage as a union between one woman and one man; and
Be it finally resolved: that official communication stating this position be facilitated between this assembly and the members of the United States Congress; and that they be encouraged to pass legislation to enshrine the historical definition of marriage in United States Law.
The motion was seconded and carried by voice vote. [http://www.choginmi.org/Media/1993And2004GeneralAssemblyResolutionsRegardingHomosexuality.pdf]
Resolution on Ministerial/Facility Protection
Against Forced Officiating/Hosting of Same-Sex Marriages (adopted by the 96th General Assembly of the Church of God, June 26, 2014)
WHEREAS, the ultimate authority for the Church of God movement (Anderson) is biblical revelation; and
WHEREAS, biblical revelation is understood by this movement to teach the appropriateness of a sexual relationship only between a man and a woman within the bonds of marriage (General Assembly resolution of June, 1993); and
WHEREAS, biblical revelation is understood by this movement to teach that marriage is the sacred union of one woman and one man (General Assembly resolution of June, 2004); and
WHEREAS, the most recent edition (2011) of the Credentials Manual for Church of God ministers/chaplains in North America states in section 2.13 that “those to whom vocational credentialing is granted are expected to hold persuasions that are in general agreement with the teaching tradition of the Church of God movement”; and
WHEREAS, current legal trends and changing social practices threaten to bring pressure on pastors/chaplains of the Church of God to officiate at “marriage” ceremonies that are contrary to biblical revelation and thus to Church of God beliefs and expectations of its credentialed ministers/chaplains; therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, that the General Assembly, convened in June, 2014, hereby reaffirms its traditional understandings of and sincerely-held religious beliefs about sexuality, marriage, and its related expectation of appropriate pastor/chaplain practice in these regards; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly recommend that all national and local entities of the Church of God (Anderson) consider establishing policies that restrict the use of their facilities from same-sex marriages.
[Resolution — Ministerial/Facility Protection Against Forced Officiating/Hosting of Same-Sex Marriages adopted by the 96th General Assembly of the Church of God Page 1 of 1]
These resolutions from the General Assembly have been provided to in order to give you documentation on how the Church of God speaks together as a body. There is no doubt that in days to come, we will continue to grapple with these and other issues that affect our culture. For this reason, the ChoG Table is being introduced as a forum where these subjects can be prayerfully discussed at length in view of Scripture.
The greatest hope of Church of God Ministries is that the members of the General Assembly will recognize the importance of attendance in meetings where crucial resolutions are passed. We desire to see the strengthening of the Assembly’s voice to the church by the re-engagement of our qualified members in crucial decisions.
We are praying for our pastors and our congregations as you serve as the people of Jesus in the midst of the shifting sands of culture.
Jesus is the subject.
Bob Moss, July 2, 2015
SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Response: A Legal Perspective Steve Justice, Attorney Legal Counsel for Church of God Ministries
Steve Justice now serves as Church of God Ministries legal counsel; he has deep Church of God roots and practices law in the metro-Dayton (Ohio) area, with the following firm:
Dungan & LeFevre Co., LPA 210 West Main Street
Troy, OH 45373
We asked him to reply to questions raised in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, released last Friday, June 26, 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges, redrawing the marriage map in the United States. His summary is below; it is shared with his permission. He welcomes further inquiries or clarification from his Church of God family; he may be contacted at his office (above).
On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court took the historic step to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the United States. In a 5–4 decision, the Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to be married under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Since that decision, clergy and churches across the country have raised legitimate concerns regarding the meaning of this decision for their faith and practice. Does the Supreme Court’s decision mean that churches, which are opposed to same-sex marriage, will be forced to allow same-sex couples to be married in their church facilities? Will clergy who believe, as part of their Christian faith, that a marriage ceremony is a holy worship ceremony, ordained by God, uniting one biological man to one biological woman, be forced to conduct wedding ceremonies of same-sex couples or face legal process? The answer: not pursuant to the Court’s decision in Obergefell.
To answer these important questions, we must keep in perspective what the Supreme Court decided: states must permit same-sex couples to be married and states must recognize the marriage of same- sex couples conducted in other states. The Court did not rule that churches or clergy who are opposed to same-sex marriage because of their Christian convictions must perform or facilitate same-sex marriages. Indeed, such a ruling arguably would have violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .”
Nevertheless, the stated concerns of Christian churches and clergy with respect to same-sex marriage are not fictitious. Even before the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, many states and localities had passed laws or ordinances that prevented discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and same-sex couples have used those laws to challenge Christian business owners who refuse to provide goods or services in connection with same-sex weddings on the basis of their Christian convictions. Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, Elaine Photography in New Mexico, Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Oregon, and Arlene’s Flowers in Washington are merely a few examples of businesses owned and operated by Christians, who refused to provide cakes, photography, or flowers for same-sex weddings on the grounds that to do so would violate their Christian faith; they were sued in recent years under state anti-discrimination laws for discriminating against the same-sex couples on the basis of their sexual orientation. In each instance, the courts rebuffed the business owners’ arguments that the state anti-discrimination law violated their constitutional right to exercise freely their Christian faith. The courts decided that the Christian business owners were free to worship as they chose, but when they chose to engage in commerce by providing goods or services to the public, they lawfully fell under the states’ anti-discrimination laws and were not permitted to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Importantly, many of the states or municipalities that have passed anti-discrimination laws, including sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected category, also have included express exemptions for churches and clergy, thereby preserving the right of churches and clergy, based on their religious convictions, to refuse to participate in or otherwise endorse same-sex weddings, without violating state or local laws. However, that is not always the case; the status/scope of state and local laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as church or clergy exemptions from the same, are far from settled issues. Therefore, churches and clergy need to be vigilant and consider now potential protective measures to preserve their legal rights not to perform or facilitate same-sex marriages. If congregations or clergy, on conscience, object to same-sex marriage and would like to take additional steps to legally protect their options in this rapidly changing legal and social environment, the following measures are recommended:
1. Research and understand the nature and scope of your state/local anti-discrimination laws. Does your state or city have a law or ordinance that penalizes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity? To what activities does it apply? Does it include express exemptions for churches, religious associations, and/or clergy? Procurement of legal counsel locally, to best explore the specific local context, is advised. Remember, not all state/local jurisdictions are the same on this front.
2. If a local church has a faith/belief statement in its bylaws, it should be amended to codify expressly that marriage is a holy act of worship in the congregation, and to define marriage pursuant to their understanding of the Scripture as the union of one biological male to one biological female. Alternatively, a congregation may choose to amend its charter documents to align with separate resolutions passed by the congregation addressing any number of theological issues. For instance, bylaws may include reference to “binding resolutions defining our understanding of the scriptures” and then adopt, separately by congregational vote, a resolution stating, “We believe the Scriptures define marriage as … and this understanding governs our faith and practice.” The Church of God has historically been averse to codification of theological principle, however, in this context, clear statements in congregational documents will provide maximum protection if church positions are challenged in court. Most churches are non-profit entities organized under state non-profit statutes; these typically indicate that the bylaws of the non- profit entity govern its operations. To avoid allegations of arbitrary decision-making, either on the part of the church leadership or its clergy, and to clarify the faith-based nature of marriage in the church, it is best to express these values in the bylaws of the church. When trying to determine whether a course of conduct or decision is consistent with a church’s exercise of religion, courts are likely to look to the church’s governing documents, such as the bylaws or other church policies.
3. Churches may also specifically amend their bylaws or church facilities policies to state expressly that as a matter of faith/belief the church will not conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies in the church’s facilities. Again, alternatively, a congregation may choose to amend its charter documents to align with separate resolutions passed by the congregation addressing any number of theological issues. For instance, bylaws may include reference to “binding resolutions defining our understanding of the Scriptures” and then adopt, by congregational vote, a separate resolution stating, “We believe the Scriptures define marriage as … and this understanding governs our faith and practice.” And, once more, each local jurisdiction has its own legal requirements with respect to anti-discrimination laws and ordinances; consult with local legal counsel.
4. Churches should not conduct or advertise a wedding business in their church facilities. The more a church looks like it is opening its facilities to conduct weddings for anyone for a stated fee, the more it looks like a wedding business offering goods or services to the public. This calls into question whether it should be regulated, like any other business, by state or local anti-discrimination laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. If, despite the risk, a church decides as a ministry to open its facilities for weddings of persons who are not affiliated in some way with the congregation, then the church should only charge a minimal fee to distinguish it from a wedding business and to highlight its ministry function.
5. Consider limiting weddings in the church facilities to members of the congregation in good standing with the faith and teachings of the local congregation or to those who are in harmony with the faith and teachings of the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).
6. For clergy, as with churches, it is best not to conduct, or engage in the appearance of conducting, a wedding business for the public.
7. Clergy should consider limiting their official role in weddings to members of the congregation who are in good standing with the faith and teachings of the local congregation or to those who are in harmony with the faith and teachings of the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).
Following these recommendations will help churches and clergy to preserve their legal right not to conduct, or facilitate, same-sex marriages.
Jesus is the Cornerstone: A SCOTUS-Response Sermon
By Steve Rennick, Church at the Crossing (Indianapolis, Indiana)
The following is a sample sermon manuscript to show how one local pastor is dealing with the subject at hand—Church of God Ministries
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
where fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
“In Christ Alone” written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. © 2001 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing).
Jesus is the Cornerstone
From Colossians 1:15–20
Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Jesus all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Jesus and for Jesus.
Jesus is before all things, and in Jesus all things hold together. Jesus is the head of the body, the church. Jesus is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything Jesus might have the supremacy.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Jesus to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross.
Jesus is the Cornerstone
- A cornerstone is—the stone which is essential, indispensable, and foundational to all the rest!
- A cornerstone is—the uniting stone which brings together disconnected pieces into a whole!
- A cornerstone is—the chief foundation upon which all that follows is constructed and developed and depends.
Jesus…is…THE…Cornerstone. He said so himself!
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
Jesus is quoting from Psalm 118:22–23
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Jesus is using Psalm 118 to identify himself—clearly—and unequivocally. He is saying:
- I am the stone which is rejected by some—yet I have become the very cornerstone—though rejected I am essential…indispensable…and foundational to all!
- Though rejected—even still—I am the chief foundation upon which all that follows is constructed and developed and depends!
- Though rejected—even then—I am the uniting stone which brings disconnected pieces back into a whole—I bring unity in the midst of brokenness.
Jesus is the Cornerstone
The prophet Isaiah (28:16) echoes this theme:
So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.”
God knows all too well—our lives will always be stricken with reasons to fear and panic—so what has God promised to do? To lay a stone—where? In Zion—the Holy Hill—or what we might call Mount Calvary—and this stone is what? It is tested—tested and tried—again and again—yet it never cracks—it never fractures—it never waivers—it never fails!
Why? Because God says it is a precious cornerstone—it is his one and only Son—and God’s Son—my Lord—the world’s Savior…is a…SURE…Foundation!
- You can depend on him
- You can rely on him
- You can stand sure on him
- You can stand steady on him
- He is my Cornerstone
- He is a sure Foundation!
And…Isaiah promises…to the one who relies on him—guess what—You will never be stricken with panic—you need not fear! As Jesus says again and again, “Be not afraid!” Fear not!
Jesus is the Cornerstone
Isaiah promises—Jesus delivers!
In the New Testament, the book of Acts, chapter 4: Peter is preaching and he says these words: Listen closely.
the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else,
for there is no other name under heaven given to all by which we must be saved.
We all come to Jesus the same way. None of us deserve the grace of God.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!
God demonstrates his own love for us in this—while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Jesus is the stone, which was rejected, yet has become the cornerstone.
For salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to all by which we ALL must be saved.
Jesus is the Cornerstone
He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has not changed. Never has. Never will.
And he says to all—to you—to me—to everyone—build your life on me—stake your soul on me—I am the Way and the Truth and the Life—all who come to the Father come by me!
And no one comes to the Father except through me!
Jesus is the Cornerstone
Today— right here—right now—Jesus, the Son of God, says:
In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!
He is a rock. He is strong. He is steady. He is sure.
And what’s more? He is here. He is alive. He is present. And he says to you and me:
Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest—For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Has your own life battered you?
Has work? Home? Friends? Family?
How about society? Culture? The broken condition of this world? Has life left you wondering—What is strong? What is sure? What is steady?
There is only one answer. Not a philosophy. Not a political party. Not a branch of government. Not a well-padded savings account. Nothing can bring safety and security—nothing can bring lasting peace and assurance—except JESUS.
So—today—whether you have known OF Jesus all your life—or whether you are just hearing about him —the answer is the same: Turn to him. He is the only treasure which can never be taken away. Turn to him, and no one—no one—can pluck you from his hand. He is strong. He is safe. He is secure. And there is no other name given under heaven by which we must—we MUST—be saved.
Let’s pray: Father, you know how broken this world is. You know how things can shake our souls, yet you say—Jesus is the cornerstone, that he is our one and only sure foundation—for abundant life in this world—and for eternal life in the world which is yet to come. And so from all of the places we have been, we all come to one place—to you—to the foot of the cross of Jesus—and we say, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Father, forgive me of my sin. I call upon you and your name and ask for you to come into my life. I turn me over to you. I am no longer in control. I no longer call the shots. Maybe I say this for the first time, or maybe it is in this season of life, that as the world around me rocks and bobs and tilts and whirls, I turn to you—to the Rock of my salvation—to the Cornerstone which was rejected—but is no longer. I say Yes to Jesus. I find in you strength…safety…reassurance…forgiveness…peace…and reconciliation…with God, and with others. I turn to you. I look to you. And I ask this in the name of Jesus, and together we all say, Amen!
Listen. That prayer is an EVERYONE prayer. If you have never ever followed Jesus, welcome aboard! If you cannot ever remember not wanting to follow Jesus, today you have just reaffirmed your faith, and in a fresh way and on a new day said:
- Jesus, you are the Lord—not me.
- Jesus, you call the shots—not me.
- Jesus, you are God—not me.
I follow you.
So, for all of us, followers of Jesus for decades—and decades—or for brand-new ones—as recent as right now—HERE is what the Bible says to us all: (Ephesians 2:19–20)
You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
I encourage every one of us here—if you are follower of Jesus—mark this verse down, write it in your notes, take a pen and write it on your hand, and put this date beside it: July 5, 2015:
I am no longer a foreigner nor a stranger—I am a fellow citizen of God’s people and a member of God’s household. My life and faith are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets—with Jesus Christ himself as the chief Cornerstone!
Jesus is the Cornerstone!
In the infamous words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Here I stand—on the cornerstone. My faith is firm, and my eyes are fixed on Jesus—the Author and Finisher of my faith. He, this Cornerstone has not moved. The culture around me has—and is—and will. For some—Friday, June 26 was a day of celebration. For others—Friday, June 26 was a day of sadness. For all of us—we recognize—the world around us has changed. The highest court in our land has made its decision. So, what does it mean? What has changed? What has not?
Let me say this clearly, concisely, compassionately, & concretely:
Nothing has changed.
- God is our heavenly Father. Nothing has changed.
- Jesus is my Lord and the Savior of the world—there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved! Nothing has changed.
- The Holy Spirit is alive, well, and active in our world. Nothing has changed.
- The Greatest Commandment—STILL IS—to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength—Nothing has changed.
- The second Greatest Commandment—STILL IS—to love our neighbor as ourselves—Nothing has changed.
- The Great Commission—given by Jesus—Go into all the world and make disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teach them to obey all that I have commanded you, for Lo! I am with you always—even to the end of the age— Nothing has changed.
- Who God is—what Jesus teaches—and his presence and power in the Holy Spirit—has not changed!
- His Word—is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. It has not changed!
- His command—to love God and our neighbor as ourselves—has not changed!
- His mission—to seek and to save the lost—to proclaim good news to the poor—to declare freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind—to set the oppressed free— and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor—has not changed!
- His command—to love one another—that all the world will know that we are his disciples— when we–What? Love one another—has not changed!
No one less than Billy Graham—when confronted with one divisive social issue after another—said clearly: “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to love, and my job to love.”
Listen—if it were always easy then Jesus would not have needed to command it—so many times! If it were natural to us then the New Testament would not need to repeat it again and again and again.
But the reality is—loving our neighbor—loving our enemy—loving those with whom we disagree—even when we disagree about things of eternal proportions—this is the way of Jesus—this is the mark of his disciples. This is the way of the Cross.
And as long as the Cross is a just another piece of fashionable jewelry—well—then it is fine. It is nice. But when we are reminded that the way of the cross—the way of Jesus—is the way of sacrifice—the way of suffering—the way of death—well, that is when the Gospels tell us several times that people turned away and said, “Master, this is a hard teaching.”
My friends, loving others even when—and especially when—we disagree—IS—THE—WAY—OF—JESUS! And he is the cornerstone. Don’t reject him. Please—don’t reject the way of Jesus.
So, let me cover a few basics with you today—about how we will continue to live our faith—as a church family—as a community of faith—as an outpost of the kingdom of God in this world.
- Are same-sex couples welcome here? Yes, always have been, always will be.
- Do we marry same-sex couples here? No, never have, never will.
- Are all people welcome here? Yes, always have been, always will be.
- Do our pastors perform same-sex weddings—either here on campus or in another location? No, never have, never will.
- Are the children of same-sex couples or households welcome here? Yes, always have been, always will be.
- Is our facility available for rental for same-sex weddings? No, never has been, never will be.
- Do we believe that God saves us from all sin—whatever the nature of that sin? Yes, always have, always will.
- Do we believe that God overlooks some sin because of our nature—our orientation—or our own innate temptation? No, never have, never will.
- Are we still on the same mission that Jesus gave his disciples 2,000 year ago? Yes, always have been, always will be.
- Are we changing our beliefs, our practices, our tradition, our faith—to suit the shifting sands of culture and society? No, never have, never will.
You see, what I am saying today, I hope is clear—nothing has changed for us—the world around us has changed, but we have not changed, nor has what we believe, nor has the way we seek to live our faith—as a church family—as a community of faith—as an outpost of the kingdom of God in this world.
Will this get tested? Will we be pressured? Likely so. But listen—as a church family—as a unit—as well as individual families and individuals in society—both our posture and our position matter. Our posture—to be compassionate, caring, loving people—MATTERS—and perhaps matters more now than ever before! No one is ever argued into the kingdom of God. No one has ever actually had hell scared out of them. Jesus way has not changed—people get loved into the kingdom of God—and God’s chosen instruments for this are we—his people.
So, please—be very, very careful HOW you say what you say.
So, please—be very, very leery of joining the public rancor—especially via social media. I have friends who ten days ago colored their profile pictures with rainbow colors, and I have others who posted that a dagger had been plunged into the soul of our country. Listen to me: both are my friends—but I do not agree with the POSTURE of either one.
Why? Because now as always I have told you—I will not lower the gospel down into the realm of earthly politics—kingdoms come, kingdoms go. Nations rise, nations fall. I’ve read it in the Book! But one thing endures—one thing remains: I am first and foremost a citizen of the kingdom of God—bar none—nothing else comes close.
I have said it before – I would not step down from being a minister of the gospel of Jesus to become the president of the United States—not because I do not love my country—but because my first allegiance—my first love—is Jesus and his eternal kingdom!
So, this place—this pulpit—this sanctuary—will always remain focused on the prize—on the high calling of Jesus Christ.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18
One thing we do: Forgetting what is behindand straining toward what is ahead, we press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13–14
That is our ultimate goal—even as heaven is our ultimate home—even as Jesus calls us there!
But what about for now? Some of you are in jobs where the rules have changed. All of us live in a nation where the laws of changed.
I hope today provides a cornerstone—and I want to thank the ministries of the Church of God in North America for putting together an excellent set of helps. We all will need some guidance as we navigate these unsettling times, and there are about 100 billion websites out there that will tell us anything and everything. Here are some resources we can trust:
- [Please refer to the resources provided at www.chognews.org]
And here are twelve words—six sentences—to serve as a guide:
- Fear not.
- Pray first.
- Love always.
- Never hate.
- Do good.
- Go love!
I am so glad I do not have to do this alone. The Lord Jesus has promised to never leave me nor forsake me, and he has given me all of you—that together we seek him and serve him, and together we find great strength.
Jesus knew that the disciples were facing difficult days—and so on his last night with them in his earthly body—he gave them a gift—a reminder—of his abiding presence, peace, and power—do you remember?
Around a table, the Lord Jesus—took bread, broke it and said, This is my body—broken for you. Eat this, and what? Remember me. Not as a distant memory—but as a living, abiding presence.
Then Jesus took a cup, and as he filled it, said, This is my blood, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of your sin. Drink this, and what? Remember me. Not as a distant memory, but as a living, abiding presence.
Today—the Lord Jesus invites you to himself—to commune with him. [Provide logistical instructions for receiving Communion here.]
The altars are open today—as a place to pray—to linger—to seek the face of God—to enjoy the presence of Jesus—to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. You are invited to come, to pray at these altars…
Do not miss this time with our Lord—for Jesus IS the cornerstone. Amen.